Opinion | Environmental organizations need to support nuclear energy

By Dalia Maeroff, Staff Columnist

Nuclear energy is far from dominating the green energy scene, despite being the most sustainable and most viable option to completely replace fossil fuels. It produces a minuscule amount of emissions compared to any other energy source, and despite the stigma, nuclear power is safe and getting safer.

Even with the deadline to reverse climate change looming over our heads, the push for “green” energy continues as nuclear energy is phased out. The environmental activism community hasn’t thrown their support behind nuclear energy despite it being proven to be one of the most sustainable sources of energy. Groups such as Greenpeace strongly oppose nuclear energy, despite most of the reasons for doing so being proven myths. By not actively advocating for nuclear energy, environmental organizations are ignoring the research and warnings of leading climate scientists and putting business before our planet.

Nuclear is the way to cleaner air and fewer emissions, but environmental groups aren’t encouraging it. The motivation seems to be financial. A study by Matthew C. Nisbet of Northeastern University examined the $557 million in grants given to environmental groups between 2011 and 2015. Of the 2,502 grants given by 19 different green energy-supporting philanthropies such as the Hewlett, Kresge and MacArthur foundations, none of the grants were given to promote nuclear energy. If the interests of the planet are truly at the forefront of the minds of environmental organizations, then it makes no sense as to why nuclear energy isn’t being advocated for instead of “green energy.”

Many environmental organizations not only take money from massive fossil fuel companies but haven’t even divested from fossil fuels and made the switch over to green energy themselves, yet expect everyone else to do so. The relationships between fossil fuel companies and environmental organizations have long been under scrutiny, especially since a report exposed the Sierra Club for taking millions of dollars from the fossil fuels industry. The Sierra Club now has a divestment plan in place, but other organizations, like Conservation International and National Wildlife Federation Endowment, have not been so proactive. While divestment from fossil fuels is a step in the right direction, advocating for nuclear energy needs to be included in the plans of every environmental organization.

Benefactors and fossil fuel companies like BP and ExxonMobil are also using environmental organizations as a performative philanthropic effort. A well-known fact in the environmental activism community is that 71% of carbon emissions are created by 100 companies. ExxonMobil is fifth on that list of largest amounts of emissions, yet also sustains relationships with environmental organizations such as The Nature Conservancy and Conservation International.

Similarly, Shell announced in 2019 a $300 million fund for “investing in natural ecosystems” over the next three years. $300 million sounds like a lot until you compare it with Shell’s annual income of $24 billion. Shell’s investment in a low-carbon future is almost imperceivable in its annual report. And yet, The Nature Conservancy, International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Wetlands International and Earthwatch are all publicly partnered with Shell. Shell ranks ninth on the list for the highest greenhouse gas emissions.

Continuing to partner with fossil fuel companies is a blatant disregard of climate science, and on behalf of environmental organizations is hypocritical. The organizations we trust to help us combat our climate crisis are partnering with one of the most important industries that need to be eradicated for our climate to be able to recover. These organizations need to be altruistic in saving our planet, which means they need to utilize nuclear energy to its fullest extent, and put science before business. 

Environmental organizations already have proof that reducing nuclear energy is not the way to go. Germany plans to completely phase out nuclear power by 2022. A study by the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research proposes that Germany’s shutdown of the first half of its nuclear power sources actually led to the release of additional 36 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, which is about a 5% increase in emissions. Given the current states of the climate crisis, this is unacceptable. 

France, the world’s leader in nuclear energy, got 70.6% of its electricity from nuclear in 2019, and about 17% of France’s electricity is from recycled nuclear fuel. France has plans to decrease its reliance on nuclear energy. Decreasing reliance on nuclear energy has been proven to only increase emissions in Germany, and France and the United States are in the midst of making the same mistake. Environmental organizations need to actively push against decreasing reliance on nuclear power worldwide if they do truly care about our climate.

It appears that the organizations working tirelessly for a greener planet are not as altruistic as they may seem. Environmental organizations cannot be corporatized, and cannot partner with the biggest enemy in this endeavor — the fossil fuel industry. Nuclear energy poses virtually no danger, and research is being done to find new and sustainable ways to deal with waste

Pushing for green energy is not equivalent to being green and we cannot allow corporations to claim that it is — especially when our planet is at stake and when we have a nuclear option at our fingertips. For our planet to heal, we need the leaders in the environmental movement to be transparent in their partnerships, altruistic in their efforts and not to put business before science and our rapidly warming planet. 

Dalia Maeroff writes primarily about issues of psychology, education, culture and environmentalism. Write to her at [email protected].