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Critics: climate bill's nuclear funding undermines clean energy claims

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Eric Tegethoff

(Northern Rockies News Service) The Inflation Reduction Act aims to revolutionize the clean-energy sector in the United States. But in Idaho, critics think its investment in nuclear power is misguided.

Like wind and solar, the legislation provides tax credits for existing nuclear power plants - in some cases, preventing the early shutdown of these facilities. Hannah Smay, president of the Boise-based Snake River Alliance's board of directors and a digital organizer for the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, said these groups disagree with the funding.

"These provisions, in our view, steal resources from real climate and environmental justice solutions and perpetuate the polluting and corrupt status quo," she said.

Nuclear power provides about one-fifth of the country's energy. Supporters of the industry have said the energy source is necessary to move the country away from fossil fuels and achieve the Biden administration's goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. A Princeton study found the Inflation Reduction Act could reduce emissions by 42 percent by 2030.

The nuclear industry isn't betting on simply sustaining existing plants. The climate bill also funds new, smaller reactor designs. NuScale Power at the Idaho National Laboratory is among the companies developing small, modular reactors. While there has been some interest, Smay noted these new designs have yet to be built or receive federal approval.

"The development of new nuclear is far too slow to meet the urgent challenge of solving the energy and climate crisis," she said.

Smay said plans to invest in nuclear also overlook the fact that it produces waste that is radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years.

"It's really just a false narrative that nuclear is 'clean,'" she said, "because it produces nuclear waste, which is one of the dirtiest substances ever created, and is responsible for numerous environmental and health problems."