Green Watch

Hey NPR: Why Are Environmentalists Opposing Nuclear Power?

This week NPR ran a report titled “Why Even Environmentalists Are Supporting Nuclear Power Today.” It gives deserved praise to advocates such as Michael Shellenberger and Mothers for Nuclear, following what looks to be their successful (arguably heroic) effort to further extend the operating life of California’s once doomed Diablo Canyon nuclear plant.

That said, the headline was grossly misleading. The richest and most influential names flying the “environmentalist” flag over the last several decades, such as the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council, are directly at fault for shutting down zero-carbon nuclear energy. And those nuclear villains are still at it. Altogether the annual spending by the anti-nuclear left exceeds $1 billion.

But you wouldn’t know that from NPR’s account.

Davids and Goliaths of the Environmental Movement

Shellenberger is also part of the environmental movement. In 2008 he was named one of Time magazine’s “Heroes of the Environment.” He is also the author of an excellent book on the subject: Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All.

In his book and at his nonprofit Environmental Progress, Shellenberger tirelessly noted that the most prominent players in the environmentalist movement have been opponents of nuclear energy, the only zero-carbon energy source that can power a modern industrial civilization.

For example, “EDF, NRDC, and Sierra Club denounce modest subsidies proposed to keep nuclear plants alive as a “bail-out” while quietly lobbying for far larger subsidies for wind and solar.”

This summer the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council have opposed the extension of Diablo Canyon’s operating life. Tax records show the combined spending of just these two anti-nuclear nonprofits in 2020 was at least $338 million.

Shellenberger’s Environmental Progress spent $793,394 the same year. The latest tax filing from Mothers for Nuclear shows $950 spent and $4,200 raised in 2017. Put together, this wouldn’t pay the $837,000 the city of Los Angeles was recently trying to spend to build just a single residence under its economically inane plot to heal its homeless problem. (To read another act of responsible journalism on that policy disaster, see Shellenberger’s latest book: San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities.)

Missed Opportunity

Michael Shellenberger, Mothers for Nuclear, and their allies deserve all the praise they received from NPR for their work in rescuing Diablo Canyon. But their heroism wouldn’t have been needed if the supposed environmental movement that NPR should also be covering wasn’t mostly opposed to the biggest source of zero-carbon energy that we have.

NPR’s inability to identify the real villains in the story this week wasn’t unique. It was just a uniquely missed opportunity.

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…
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