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"The toxic waste byproducts of nuclear plants are not worth the risks of the technology’s benefit," Sanders' campaign platform reads. (Photo: Bill Liao/flickr/cc)

While Sanders Rejects It, Clinton Embraces Nuclear as Part of 'Clean-Energy' Vision

The two candidates battling for the Democratic presidential nomination are divided as to whether nuclear power qualifies as "clean energy"

Nika Knight Beauchamp

Bernie Sanders has made climate change a central pillar of his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president, and he is adamant that nuclear power has no place in his vision of the nation's cleaner future.

Hillary Clinton, to the contrary, believes "nuclear energy has an important role to play in our clean-energy future," Jake Sullivan, Clinton's policy director, told the local Idaho news source Magicvalley.com on Monday.

Sanders argues for "a moratorium on nuclear power plant license renewals in the United States," on his campaign site.

"Bernie believes that solar, wind, geothermal power and energy efficiency are proven and more cost-effective than nuclear—even without tax incentives," his platform goes on, "and that the toxic waste byproducts of nuclear plants are not worth the risks of the technology’s benefit."

When it comes to the candidates' climate proposals, Magicvalley.com observed that Sanders' "biggest contrast with Clinton is on nuclear energy."

Clinton has switched her answer several times on the question of nuclear power. She was pro-nuclear power in 2007, when she began her first campaign for the Democratic nomination, changed her mind in the midst of that campaign in 2008 and stated that she was against it—"I have a comprehensive energy plan that does not rely on nuclear power," she declared that year.

Clinton continued to argue against nuclear power until this most recent election season. As of February 2016, her campaign platform states that she is once again in favor of it.

The Democratic presidential hopefuls are currently focusing campaign efforts in Western states such as Idaho, which holds its Democratic caucus on Tuesday. The state is also home to the Idaho National Laboratory, a federal research facility that focuses on nuclear energy, which employs "thousands of  Idahoans," as Magicvalley.com noted.

Sullivan told Magicvalley.com, "The Idaho National Laboratory would be an important institution to promote our clean-energy policy."

Clinton's renewed pro-nuke stance may meet resistance from voters nationwide, who are against nuclear power in greater numbers than ever before. Indeed, a new poll shows that a majority of Americans now oppose nuclear energy, Common Dreams reported last week.

And nuclear power is not the only energy issue on which Clinton's stance has recently pivoted. Just last week, she walked back statements she made arguing against coal at a Democratic town hall. In a "head-spinning reversal," Grist reported, only a day after the town hall the Clinton campaign "released a statement saying, 'Coal will remain a part of the energy mix for years to come.'"

Sanders has long been against both coal and nuclear power, and has often critiqued the nuclear power industry. He has harshly condemned the U.S. government's subsidies of nuclear energy companies as well as the nation's failure to maintain its dangerously aging nuclear reactors. 

As a U.S. senator, Sanders also battled federal regulators for the right of his home state of Vermont to determine its own energy future in its struggle to shut down the problem-plagued Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) "has no right to tell us what kind of future we will have," Sanders proclaimed on the floor of the Senate back in 2011. "The people of Vermont believe, and I agree, that our future lies with energy efficiency and sustainable energy."


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