During last year’s Earth Day SF event, one of the exhibitors was the nonprofit Save Clean Energy, which advocates for carbon-free resources like nuclear power as a path away from reliance on fossil fuels.
Its small table featured stickers, informational brochures, a solar panel to charge your phone, stickers and gummy bears that showed the size of spent uranium pellets.
“Very normal activism things,” Save Clean Energy founder Isabelle Boemeke told The Standard. “It’s not like we were throwing tomato soup at artwork.”
The reaction was positive, so when it came time to apply for a spot in this year’s Earth Day celebration on April 22 at Golden Gate Park, Save Clean Energy again put its hat in the ring, hoping to present alongside the event's live music, workshops and an assortment of vegan treats.
Although it was initially accepted, the group later received a call from an Earth Day SF organizer who said it had been disinvited and offered to refund its money.
At issue? The organization’s support for nuclear power.
Boemeke—who dubs herself a “nuclear energy influencer”—says nuclear power is critical to getting the world off of fossil fuels amid the growing threat of climate change. Earth Day SF clearly disagrees.
In an interview, Earth Day SF artistic director Douglas Kolberg said that the decision to rescind Save Clean Energy’s invitation shouldn’t be misconstrued as the event itself taking a position on nuclear power.
But he acknowledged that most of the event’s leadership “have anti-nuclear leanings” and listed issues like nuclear waste disposal and the potential for disaster at a nuclear energy plant due to a seismic event.
The first Earth Day was held in 1970. The anti-nuclear movement gained steam in the 1970s amid the Cold War’s arms race and the partial meltdown of Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island nuclear reactor in 1979.
“We have a bunch of people in our leadership with a range of opinions, but one of the main organizers felt the need to express some apprehension about a pro-nuclear group,” Kolberg said.
Boemeke said she’s experienced subtle pushback against her organization’s support for nuclear power, often from an older generation of activists.
“To the untrained, it may look like they just want to focus on renewables, but it’s completely excluding nuclear, making it not a part of the conversation, not inviting people who are advocates for nuclear power to participate—and, in this case, even banning us,” Boemeke said. “I feel like this conversation is stuck in the ’70s and ’80s.”
Among Save Clean Energy’s campaigns was an effort to keep the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in San Luis Obispo County—California’s last operating reactor—open past 2025. The plant recently received a reprieve from federal regulators, while PG&E seeks a 20-year extension of the plant’s lifespan.
Part of the argument made by nuclear proponents like Save Clean Energy is that renewable energy sources like wind and solar—while an important part of a clean energy future—are insufficient to head off the coming climate crisis.
“I feel strongly that shutting down functioning and ostensibly safe operating nuclear power plants is a form of climate suicide,” said environmental activist Charles Komanoff, a later-in-life convert to the nuclear cause. “The next wave or waves of wind and solar efficiency should be doing what they were designed to, which is to drive fossil fuels off the grid.”
Boemeke said her argument is that the conversation needs to evolve with the times and the intervening years of research and technological advancement.
“I would actually love to talk to them and try to understand their side and explain some of our side,” Boemeke said. “Because at the end of the day, we all need to coordinate and collaborate if we want to solve the immense problem that is climate change.”
Kevin Truong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org