On May 17, 2016, over four dozen climate scientists and leading environmentalists urge national environmental leaders to take urgent action to protect America's largest source of clean energy. 


May 17, 2016

Mr. Michael Brune, Executive Director, Sierra Club

Mr. Fred Krupp, President, Environmental Defense Fund

Ms. Rhea Suh, President, NRDC

Mr. Kenneth Kimmel, President, Union of Concerned Scientists

Mr. Dick Munson, Environmental Defense Fund, Director, Midwest Clean Energy

Mr. Henry Henderson, Director, Midwest Office, Natural Resources Defense Council

Mr. Jack Darin, Director, Sierra Club


Dear Mr. Brune, Mr. Krupp, Ms. Suh, Mr. Kimmel, Mr. Munson, Mr. Henderson, and Mr. Darin,

Two and a half years ago, four of us wrote to you and other environmental leaders expressing our concern that “continued opposition to nuclear power threatens humanity’s ability to avoid dangerous climate change.” We urged you to support the development and deployment of new nuclear plants.

We are writing now, as a larger group of climate scientists, conservation scientists, environmentalists and concerned citizens, to urge your support for state and federal action to prevent the replacement of clean, zero carbon nuclear power plants with natural gas.

In particular, we urge you to support efforts by Illinois, New York and others states to include nuclear plants, at least distressed ones, in a low-carbon portfolio.

Fracking is partly responsible for premature closures of nuclear plants while the main factor hurting nuclear is discriminatory policies. While nuclear has suffered, wind and solar have boomed. This is because wind and solar receive, respectively, 17 and 140 times more in federal subsidies than nuclear, and because 30 states have mandates to deploy clean energy that exclude nuclear, even though its carbon emissions are lower than those of solar panels.

If nuclear plants at risk of premature closure received a fraction of the subsidies solar and wind receive, or were included in state Renewable Portfolio Standards, no new policies would be needed to protect them.

Recent closures show that nuclear plants are replaced almost entirely with natural gas-fueled power. Retiring four nuclear plants resulted in additional carbon emissions equivalent to putting three million new cars on the road; if we lose the other 10 plants, it will be the same as adding 10 million cars to the road.

Loss of nuclear plants will largely negate the benefits of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. Reactors in states with deregulated electricity markets and reactors approaching license renewals are especially likely to shut down. If these 47 units close and are replaced with natural gas-fired power, the extra 171 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions will reverse 87 percent of the CPP-mandated emissions reductions in their home states.

If the nation loses all its nuclear plants, the extra greenhouse emissions will reverse 84 percent of the nation-wide gains from the CPP.

Renewable sources are simply not making up for lost nuclear. Even with the very high and unprecedented rate of solar and wind additions over the last five years, it would still take 12 years to replace the 120 billion kilowatt-hours of yearly production from the eleven at-risk nuclear plants with wind and solar, and 81 years to replace the entire reactor fleet.

Meanwhile, solar and wind electricity used to replace lost nuclear plants will not be available to displace fossil-fueled power from the grid. If nuclear plants are closed, America’s progress in reducing carbon emissions will stall.

Each of your organizations has, in the past, called climate change our most serious environmental problem and urged technology-neutral approaches, namely pricing carbon. We applaud this principled view, and encourage you to extend it to nuclear in the states where your organizations have influence.

Climate policy should aspire to technology-neutrality. If a federal price on carbon cannot be achieved then subsidies should be equalized. And everyone who supports strong action on the state level should support not today’s low renewable portfolio standard targets but rather a 100 percent zero emission standard — one that treats all sources of zero-carbon electricity — from solar and wind to nuclear and coal with carbon capture and sequestration — equally.

Commitment to climate action and a basic standard of fairness demands that reasonable actions be taken to prevent any move away from zero emissions nuclear to carbon and methane-emitting natural gas. A long-term commitment to natural gas would increase fracking, to the detriment of our climate and the future for young people. 


Barry Brook, Professor and Chair of Environmental Sustainability, University of Tasmania

Ken Caldeira, Carnegie Institution Dept of Global Ecology, Stanford University

David Dudgeon, Chair of Ecology & Biodiversity, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Hong Kong, China

Erle C. Ellis, Ph.D, Professor, Geography & Environmental Systems, University of Maryland

Kerry Emanuel, Professor of Atmospheric Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Joseph Fargione, Ph.D, ecologist

James Hansen, Climate Science, Awareness, and Solutions Program, Columbia University, Earth Institute, Columbia University

Chris Johnson, Professor of Wildlife Conservation, University of Tasmania, Australia

William F. Laurance, PhD, FAA, FAAAS, FRSQ, Distinguished Research Professor & Australian Laureate, Prince Bernhard Chair in International Nature Conservation, Director of the Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science (TESS), James Cook University Cairns, Queensland 4878, Australia

David W. Lea, Professor, Earth Science, University of California

Michelle Marvier, Professor, Environmental Studies and Sciences, Santa Clara University

Raymond Pierrehumbert, Halley Professorship of Physics, University of Oxford

Joe Mascaro, Program Manager for Impact Initiatives, Planet Labs

Robert May, Oxford OM AC Kt FRS, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford

Peter H. Raven, President Emeritus, Missouri Botanical Garden. Winner of the National Medal of Science, 2001

Burton Richter, Nobel Prize Winner, Physics, 1976

Frank M. Richter, Sewell Avery Distinguished Professor of Geophysics, The University of Chicago 

Jeff Terry, Professor of Physics, Illinois Institute of Technology 

Cagan H. Sekercioglu, professor of conservation ecology, Department of Biology, University of Utah; former senior scientist at the Stanford University Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Utah.

Pushker Kharecha, Climate Science, Awareness, and Solutions Program, Columbia University, Earth Institute, Columbia University

Scholars, Conservationists and Environmentalists

Daniel Aegerter, Chairman, Armada Investment

John Asafu-Adjaye, PhD, Senior Fellow, Institute of Economic Affairs, Ghana, Associate Professor of Economics, The University of Queensland, Australia

John Crary, Crary Family Foundation

Gwyneth Cravens, author, Power to Save the World

Christopher Foreman, author, The Promise & Peril of Environmental Justice, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland

Valerie Gardner, President, Climate Coalition

Kirsty Gogan, Energy for Humanity

Joshua S. Goldstein, Prof. Emeritus of International Relations, American University

Gene Grecheck, President, American Nuclear Society

Garrett Gruener, Managing Director, Gruener Ventures

Mel Guymon, Guymon Family Foundation

Ross Koningstein, author, "What it would really take to reverse climate change," IEEE Spectrum

Joe Lassiter, Professor, Harvard Business School

John Lavine, Professor and Medill Dean Emeritus, Northwestern University

Martin Lewis, Department of Geography, Stanford University

Alan Medsker, Coordinator, Environmental Progress - Illinois

Norris McDonald, President, Center for Environment, Commerce & Energy/African American Environmentalist Association

Reed F. Noss, Provost's Distinguished Research Professor, Department of Biology, University of Central Florida

Carl Page, President, Anthropocene Institute 

Margi Kindig, Wisconsin Governor's Task Force on Global Warming, former Board Chair, Clean Wisconsin

Andrew Klein, in-coming President, American Nuclear Society

Steve Kirsch, CEO, Token

Mark Lynas, author, The God Species, Six Degrees

Steve McCormick, Former CEO, The Nature Conservancy      

Norris McDonald, President, Center for Environment, Commerce & Energy/African American Environmentalist Association

Steven Pinker, Harvard University, Better Angels of Our Nature

Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer Prize recipient, author of Nuclear Renewal and The Making of the Atomic Bomb

 Paul Robbins, Director, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies

Rachel Pritzker, Pritzker Innovation Fund

Rathin Roy, Director, National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, Delhi, India

Ray A. Rothrock, Partner Emeritus Venrock, venture capitalist

Samir Saran, Vice President, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi, India

Michael Shellenberger, President, Environmental Progress

Robert Stone, filmmaker, “Pandora’s Promise”

Stephen Tindale, Alvin Weinberg Foundation, former Executive Director, Greenpeace UK

Barrett P. Walker, Alex C. Walker Foundatio