Should we embrace nuclear energy to solve the climate crisis? 

Green Century's Leslie Samuelrich isn't sure there are satisfactory reasons to include nuclear in ESG funds

Even though I knew for months that an ESG firm was thinking about removing its exclusion on nuclear power producers, I was taken aback when I read their press release. Why would they revert their position and turn to nuclear when investing in renewable energy has grown so dramatically?

In reading their statement, I didn’t find any satisfactory explanations. Yet this sentence struck me: “We believe nuclear energy offers a critical source of fuel, with benefits that include … safety.”  Safety. Let’s start with that.

Safety. The designs for nuclear plants are varied, and there is no guarantee that the reactors will be designed, built, and operated correctly or that a natural disaster, such as the earthquake and tsunami with 30-foot waves that hit the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station won’t affect it given the increased frequency and intensity of storms due to climate change. In contrast, wind turbines pose none of these dangers but may pose other potential drawbacks. There also are costs associated with meltdown, mining lung cancer, and waste. Clean, renewables can help reduce such risks.

Cost. Nuclear power is among the costliest approaches to solving America’s energy problems. New nuclear power costs about five times more than onshore wind power per kilowatt hour. Per dollar of investment, clean energy solutions – such as energy efficiency and renewable resources – deliver far more energy than nuclear power.

Timing. Nuclear takes five to 17 years longer between planning and operation than renewable energy does.

Emissions. Supporters claim these plants can deliver energy with no carbon emissions but there is no such thing as a zero emission nuclear power plants. Emissions from nuclear plants are on average 23 times the emissions per unit of electricity generated. Even existing plants emit due to the continuous mining and refining of uranium needed for the plant.

Waste. The radioactive waste from nuclear power plants stays radioactive for decades and is typically stored in temporary facilities. But even those storage spaces are running out and the industry is turning to more costly options.

Reducing emissions is critical and that’s why I believe that sustainable investors should keep nuclear out of responsible and green investing, and support the clean renewable energy sector.

Globally, renewables account for about one third of electricity generation—and renewable capacity will meet 35% of global power generation by 2025, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA) . The global energy crisis has triggered unprecedented momentum behind renewables, with the world set to add as much renewable power in the next five years as it did in the past 20.

The considerable human and environmental safety issues involved with building and running nuclear plants, as well as the lessons from Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima must not be forgotten.

Why gamble with the environmental and public health risks of it – especially when renewable energy is cleaner and cost competitive. I’m proud that the Green Century Funds have excluded nuclear energy for more than two decades, offering a true path toward a safer planet, and we have no plans to change our commitment.