Green Watch

Congress Approves of Nuclear Energy, but There’s Still a $2.3 Billion Annual Opposition

In June, with a remarkably bipartisan vote of 88-2, the U.S. Senate approved the ADVANCE Act. More could and certainly should be done to liberate carbon-free nuclear energy from anti-energy federal regulators. But this proposal is a fine start that partially defangs the noxious authority of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Decades have passed since nearly 90 percent of the Senate voted to support an objectively sane energy proposal, yet here we are.

Less pleasantly, the traditional enemies of America’s largest source of carbon-free electricity show no signs of growing weaker. Last August I compiled a list of all the American nonprofits with a known opposition to nuclear power and arrived at a combined annual revenue of more than $2.3 billion. A new tabulation compiled two weeks ago, using newer IRS reports released for many of them, shows little change in this total: $2,311,436,016.

The full list is available at the InfluenceWatch profile for Opposition to Nuclear Energy.

As explained in detail last year, the methodology for arriving at this estimate of the total financial strength of anti-nuclear nonprofits is deliberately and extremely conservative, omitting tens of millions of dollars that could and arguably should be counted toward the total. The American movement against nuclear power is almost certainly much richer.

It is also true that not all of the funding used by these groups is directed toward impeding carbon-free nuclear energy. For example, judging by the photos of wind turbines and solar panels adorning their webpages, plus the posted reports and annual reports advocating for same, most of the best-funded groups on the anti-nuke list spend more of their resources advocating for weather-restricted energy systems. (The absurdity of the supposed “environmental” groups fiercely promoting environment-devouring, weather-dependent electricity, while simultaneously arguing our weather is becoming more unreliable and dangerous is a subject for a different essay.)

The Hypocritical Opponents

On the other hand, many groups that could and arguably should be included as functionally anti-nuclear have not been included in the estimate. None resemble this awkward, internally hypocritical position more closely than the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

“The need to rapidly reduce our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions and decarbonize the economy will require a range of different tools,” said the UCS in an April 2024 letter to congressional leaders. “Nuclear power could play a role in a low-carbon energy future, but only if it meets the highest standards of safety and security, both for the aging operating fleet and for new plants and fuel cycle facilities.”

But what may seem to be guarded support for nuclear energy is instead veiled opposition to making more of it. That April UCS letter was sent in opposition to passage of the ADVANCE Act.

“Certain provisions of this bill have the potential to undermine the independence of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and compromise its ability to protect public health, worker safety, and the environment from releases of radioactive material that could occur during nuclear power plant accidents and sabotage attacks,” they wrote at the outset of the letter. “We urge you to reject these dangerous provisions as you work to reconcile the differences between the House bill and the ADVANCE Act.”

Not nearly enough was done to soothe the UCS’s fears, because the final product earned a further rebuke. In a June 17 statement, a UCS official chirped that the measure approved by the Senate would “increase the danger to people already living downwind of nuclear facilities from a severe accident or terrorist attack, and it will make it even more difficult for communities to prevent risky, experimental reactors from being sited in their midst.”

This is grossly overstated fearmongering, as I noted in a report on the UCS last February:

2020 report from Our World in Data examined mortality rates per unit of energy produced and found nuclear power to be functionally tied with wind and solar as having the best safety record. Furthermore, the report showed nuclear to have lower greenhouse gas emissions per unit of energy produced than every other source, slightly less than even wind and solar, and a whopping 10 times less than hydropower.

But the best countering argument to the Doomsday spinsters at the UCS was presented a year earlier by the economics and energy specialists at the Doomberg Substack. As the name implies, Doomberg reports are purpose-built to consider downside risk. Nevertheless, their February 2023 analysis identified the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as the single biggest impediment to the rollout of carbon-free nuclear power in America.

“There is only one concerning point source of waste for nuclear power in the US, and it sits squarely with this agency,” concluded Doomberg. “If the US is serious about climate change, the NRC must go.”

What also “must go” is the richly funded, lockstep opposition to nuclear energy by nearly every major “environmentalist” group in the nation. The UCS, not even included (yet) on the list I compiled, reported an average of $50 million annual revenue for the two fiscal years ending 2021 and 2022.

Weather-Dependent Power Is the Real Agenda

The Sierra Club, reporting annual revenue of more than $150 million since at least 2019, has a webpage dedicated to explaining that the group “remains unequivocally opposed to nuclear energy.”

“Nuclear power is not a solution to the climate crisis,” wrote Sierra, in a May 2024 letter recommending against passage of the ADVANCE Act.

The letter also shouted the quiet part out loud: “Spending precious federal resources on nuclear power only takes away from the desperately needed development of a clean, affordable and more equitable energy system powered by renewable energy.”

Compared to weather-dependent, unreliable wind and solar energy systems, getting carbon-free power from nuclear energy nibbles up only a tiny fraction of the environment. The U.S. Department of Energy has reported that it takes “more than 3 million solar panels to produce the same amount of power as a typical commercial reactor or more than 430 wind turbines (capacity factor not included).”

Nuclear is also the most reliable energy source we have. The average nuclear reactor was in action at full power more than 92 percent of the time during the most recent year measured by the Department of Energy. This was regardless of whether the sun shined or the wind blew. Wind turbines clocked in with an average capacity factor of less than 35 percent, and solar panels at less than 25 percent.

So, the Sierra Club is correct. If not artificially suppressed, carbon-free nuclear energy is a direct and existential threat to the continued wasting of financial and environmental resources on weather-dependent wind and solar energy systems. In addition to their opposition to nuclear energy, the big climate groups are nothing if not PR firms for these boondoggles.

Commercial Nuclear Power

Commercial nuclear power was born in the United States almost 70 years ago and could provide a virtually limitless supply of carbon-free power for any nation that desires it. The French have gotten as much as 70 percent of their annual electricity from nuclear reactors. There is no reason, save for mindless opposition from obstructionists such as the Sierra Club, that Americans couldn’t do so as well.

Put together, just six climate nonprofits accounted for more than $1 billion of the $2.3 billion in combined annual revenue estimate for the anti-nuclear movement: the World Wildlife Fund, Environmental Defense Fund, the World Resources Institute, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, and the Rocky Mountain Institute.

If they and their donors were serious about reducing carbon emissions, then they would all be switching sides on nuclear power. Just one serious, brave defection from this group might set off a movement that cuts carbon emissions more than the tens of billions of dollars they have collectively spent over the last three decades.

If they really believe the Earth is on fire, then they won’t put out the blaze with wind-powered fire trucks.

Ken Braun

Ken Braun is CRC’s senior investigative researcher and authors profiles for and the Capital Research magazine. He previously worked for several free market policy organizations, spent six…
+ More by Ken Braun