RELEASE: Environmental justice must receive stronger consideration by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Berkeley, Calif. — Today, the Breakthrough Institute’s Senior Climate and Energy Analyst Dr. Seaver Wang published a new blog post highlighting the importance of environmental justice considerations by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) when making decisions and rulings. In order to do so, the NRC must not only acknowledge our nation’s obligations to address past injustices, but recognize that the future of nuclear energy is critical for America’s clean energy economy.

Click here to read Dr. Wang’s blog post

Earlier this month, the Breakthrough Institute’s Dr. Wang and Sr. Nuclear Energy Analyst Dr. Adam Stein submitted an official comment to the NRC’s Systematic Assessment for how the NRC Addresses Environmental Justice in its Programs, Policies, and Activities asserting an underappreciated yet critical responsibility of the NRC involves upholding distributive justice. This week, both Dr. Stein and Dr. Wang authored a letter to congressional leaders underscoring this point, specifically supporting the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments of 2021 (H.R.5338 and S.2798), crucially extending existing support to compensate Americans exposed to radiation from nuclear weapons testing and from uranium mining for military nuclear programs in the late 20th century.

“It is crucial for the NRC to acknowledge key environmental justice lessons from the past,” Dr. Wang writes, “while also looking towards the future and recognizing the potential of a new generation of nuclear technologies to provide considerable environmental justice benefits.

The impact and potential of advanced nuclear energy technology cannot be understated. Dr. Wang explains, “New nuclear designs can provide abundant clean electricity over a long operational lifetime and do so with low land and material use while displacing polluting fossil plants that impact fenceline communities and worsen climate change. Advanced nuclear power plants can generate dependable electricity and heat that safeguards Americans from climate impacts like storms and extreme weather. Small reactors carry the potential to free rural and island communities from expensive fossil fuel shipments that are subject to tenuous transportation networks and global supply chains. Small modular reactors and microreactors can expand the pantheon of energy options that are accessible to poor communities and regional or local utilities.”

Dr. Wang emphasizes the need for the NRC to prioritize strengthening procedural equitability by implementing policies and practices that make access to NRC proceedings more feasible. Simultaneously, the NRC needs to recognize the importance of distributive justice by considering the economic benefits of license applications under review and ensuring that such benefits are fairly allocated.

“With the leap in reliability, versatility, and safety that today’s emerging new nuclear technologies offer, it is crucial for the NRC to recognize that the fair distribution of benefits will represent an increasing share of its future environmental justice obligations."