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US nuclear power and the Democratic field

January 13, 2020

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US President Donald Trump faces a large number of contenders for the next election in 2020. This number will dwindle as the primaries begin in February. Meanwhile, some of the candidates have announced their policy decisions on energy, including nuclear power.

The diverse opinions of the leading ten (as of early November) are summarized here.

  • Joe Biden, the frontrunner, has pledged to establish a new Advanced Research Projects Agency focused on climate technologies, including small modular reactors, with the aim of addressing the costs and safety of the nuclear industry, as well as waste disposal. He hasn’t stated a position on maintaining or refurbishing the current fleet of US nuclear power plants.
  • Bernie Sanders may be the leading opponent of nuclear power among the candidates. In 2018, he proposed a bill to decommission plants across the US, and has called for a complete ban of nuclear energy.
  • Elizabeth Warren does not mention nuclear power in her climate plan. However, in CNN’s climate town hall, she advocated “weaning ourselves off nuclear energy” and shutting existing plants down by 2035.
  • Michael Bloomberg has pledged to set the US on a path to a “100% clean-energy future”, and his $500 million Beyond Carbon campaign and his efforts to shut down coal plants lend weight to his words. Though his climate plan doesn’t specify the role of nuclear power in this transition, his spokesperson has said that Bloomberg supports “maintaining a safe, reliable nuclear presence in our energy makeup”, according to the Los Angeles Times.
  • Pete Buttigieg does not mention nuclear power in his climate plan. He told the Washington Post that he opposed building new nuclear power plants, but recognized that nuclear power must remain part of carbon-free energy for now.
  • Andrew Yang is a proponent of nuclear power, describing it as a “stopgap” toward a future of renewable power. His climate plan would put new reactors online by 2027, with a $50 billion investment in developing advanced reactors, including thorium reactors.
  • Amy Klobuchar does not mention nuclear power in her climate plan, but she said in the CNN Town Hall that she supported keeping existing plants open and even upgrading them, without expanding nuclear power.
  • Tulsi Gabbard supports phasing out nuclear power. Her climate plan states that she does not “support ‘leaving the door open’ to nuclear power unless and until there is a permanent solution to the problem of nuclear waste.”

This list of candidates – and their positions – could continue to evolve as the primaries narrow the field, and debate on energy policy advances. But there is no question that the issue carries a lot of weight: nuclear reactors produce about 20% of the electricity in the US.

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