As the U.S. presidential race heats up, examining both remaining candidates’ historical stances on energy issues- particularly nuclear energy- can provide valuable insight to what lies ahead.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has no voting record or definitive nuclear energy plan, so his would-be policies are uncertain. The closest resource to a published energy policy is the transcript of a speech he gave in North Dakota in May 2016. Mr. Trump has, however, addressed nuclear energy broadly over the years in interviews and campaign speeches. In the wake of the Fukushima disaster in 2011, Mr. Trump was very supportive of nuclear energy. “I’m in favor of nuclear energy, very strongly in favor of nuclear energy,” he said. “If a plane goes down people keep flying. If you get into an auto crash people keep driving.” While he acknowledged concerns over terrorists and earthquakes, he also bluntly asserted, “we do need nuclear energy, and we need a lot of it fast.”
Although Mr. Trump has not become anti-nuclear on the campaign trail this year, his limited energy addresses have indicated a shift in how he conceptualizes nuclear energy. In the North Dakota speech, he stressed the importance of eliminating bureaucratic hurdles “so that we can pursue all forms of energy. This includes renewable energies and the technologies of the future. It does include nuclear and wind and solar, but not to the exclusion of other forms of energy, and other forms of energy that right now are working much better.” Combined with his post-Fukushima focus on the burgeoning U.S. natural gas industry, and his assertion that the United States is “the Saudi Arabia times a hundred of natural gas,” it is evident that Mr. Trump does not equate nuclear energy as comparable to fossil fuels in terms of energy resources, although both are base-load resources.
In fact, it is not necessarily encouraging that Mr. Trump groups nuclear with the renewable resources, in the same category as wind and solar. The Republican candidate is a notorious climate change denier on social media in particular, and recently stated that he would “cancel” the Paris climate agreement. Considering that climate change mitigation currently frames one of the most widely-cited arguments for expansion of costly nuclear energy programs, Mr. Trump’s stance on this particular issue is not promising.
Mr. Trump emphasized in the North Dakota speech that the government should “not pick winners and losers,” a common phrase among Republicans who oppose tax benefits for renewable energy. Given the economic plight of the U.S. nuclear energy industry, this argument hits home especially hard for the nuclear sector at this time. While Trump has not yet been explicitly anti-nuclear, he has been much louder in his advocacy for fossil fuels and natural gas in particular. His impassioned stance on domestic drilling and natural gas could raise barriers to entry for nuclear companies should fossil fuels remain competitive, cheap energy sources.
Another aspect to consider is Mr. Trump’s stance on the U.S.-Japan alliance, and the effect it may have on the nuclear industry. Historically, he has been extremely critical of Japan and the relationship between the two countries. In the immediate aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, Trump stated, “Japan has been, other than — in all fairness, they have been ripping us off for years dollar-wise, I mean, with their cars and what they do. You talk about trade. Japan has played us for a patsy for years.” He maintains a similar stance regarding China, and reformation of the U.S.-China trade relationship is a key tenet of his campaign. Given recent dynamics in the international nuclear market, Trump’s approach to foreign policy alone could feasibly have a significant impact on the nuclear energy industry.
Ultimately, as is expected among Republican candidates, Mr. Trump does not appear to directly oppose nuclear energy, and could prove a strong advocate should he be elected President. His lack of official policies and tendency toward sweeping statements, however, make it difficult at this time to pinpoint exactly what his effect on the industry may be.