Clean energy, sustainable energy – both terms include nuclear energy

For the Democratic Party debate held last night, the scientists at MinuteEarth were asked to provide a video giving some context for their question to the candidates about climate change.

Here is their video, their question and responses from Senator Bernie Sanders and Governor Mark O’Malley. Secretary Clinton wasn’t given a chance to answer; it was time for a commercial break.


Henry Reich: Hey, this is Henry from MinuteEarth. NBC News and YouTube asked us to make a video giving context for our question at the Democratic Presidential Debate on January 17, 2016. Most of you live all around the world and may not have seen the debate. So without further ado, here’s the video and the response from the candidates.

Lester Holt: Many Democratic voters are passionate about the need to do something to combat the threat of climate change including the team of scientists from YouTube’s MinuteEarth channel. Here’s their take.

MinuteEarth video: Hello from MinuteEarth. Fossil fuels have long kept our cars moving and our lightbulbs lit. But we now know that burning these fuels releases heat-trapping gases that are warming the planet, causing seas to rise and contributing to extreme weather events like South Carolina’s devastating flooding last year.

Fighting human-caused climate change means giving up our global addiction to fossil fuels and shifting the bulk of the world’s energy supply to alternative sources. Some countries have acted decisively to make this transition. But here at home we still get a whopping 82% of our energy from coal, oil and natural gas.

In the U.S. political gridlock, pressure from industry lobbyists and insufficient R&D have made an already tough battle against climate change even tougher.

Lester Holt: Senator Sanders, Americans love their SUVs, which spiked in sales last year as gas prices plummeted. How do you convince Americans that the problem of climate change is so urgent that they need to change their behavior?

Bernie Sanders: I think we already are. Younger generation understands it instinctively. I was home in Burlington, VT on Christmas Eve. The temperature was 65 degrees. People in Vermont know what’s going on. People who did ice fishing where their ice is no longer there on the lake understand what’s going on. I’m on both the environmental and energy committees. The debate is over; climate change is real. It is already causing major problems. And if we do not act boldly and decisively, a bad situation will become worse.

It is amazing to me, and I think we will have agreement on this up here, that we have a major party called the Republican Party that is so owned by the fossil fuel industry and their campaign contributions that they don’t even have the courage, the decency to listen to the scientists. It is beyond my comprehension how we can elect a president of the United States, somebody like Trump who believes that climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese [laughter].

Bottom line is we need to be bold and decisive. We can create millions of jobs. We must, for the sake of our kids and grandchildren transform our energy system away from fossil fuels to energy efficiency and sustainable energy. I’ve got the most comprehensive legislation in the Senate to do that and as president I will fight to make that happen.

Lester Holt: Governor O’Malley, 30 seconds

Martin O’Malley: Thank you. Lester, on this stage tonight, this Democratic stage. Where we actually believe in science [Clinton and audience chuckle], I would like to challenge and invite my colleagues here on the stage to join me in putting forward a plan to move us to a 100% clean electric energy grid by 2050. It can be done. With solar, with wind, with new technologies, with green buildings. This can happen. President Obama made us more energy independent, but an all of the above strategy didn’t land us on the moon. We need American ingenuity and we need to reach this goal by 2050 for the sake of our kids.

Lester Holt: It’s time. We’re going to take a break

Hilary Clinton: Let me…

Henry Reich: So there you go. If you want to see more, like some of the questions that other YouTubers asked the candidates, you can watch the whole debate at the NBC News YouTube channel.

And a huge thanks to all of our Patreon supports who make projects like this possible. This was a super last minute endeavor and we couldn’t afford to do it without your support so thank you very much. And if you’d like to support MinuteEarth on Patreon, go to


People tell me that I am a hopeless optimist, but I’m cautiously encouraged by this extract from the Democratic debate. Although you will not be able to do a text search on the above transcript and find the ‘N’ [nuclear] word, it was clearly included on the video.

Aside: I’ve been told that the candidates have the ability to see the videos provided as context for questions, so all of them saw that the scientists at MinuteEarth include nuclear energy as a clean energy alternative to fossil fuels. End Aside.

Though Senator Sanders might not yet agree that nuclear energy qualifies as sustainable energy, with fast neutron breeder reactors and molten salt thorium reactors the supply of fission fuel is inexhaustible.

Not only will fission fuel last as long as solar energy will last, but, unlike wind and solar energy, nuclear power plants can drive the industrial effort required to manufacture and construct additional nuclear facilities. That makes fission sustainable in a way that energy efficiency, wind and solar energy, by themselves, are not.

People who understand science and engineering, particularly thermodynamics, construction, energy conversion and resource extraction technologies know that weather-dependent, diffuse power sources aren’t capable of powering factories, metal recycling plants or mines without major assistance from more controllable power sources.

The other candidate given a chance to answer the question, Governor Martin O’Malley, strongly supported nuclear energy, especially advanced nuclear technologies like Generation III reactors, while he was serving as the governor of Maryland. His “100% clean electric energy grid” includes a healthy dose of nuclear fission power stations, even if he does not utter the ‘N’ word when on a debate stage.

However, I’m not satisfied with code word acknowledgement. President Obama’s consistently positive statements about nuclear energy should have shown his party that Democrats do not automatically walk away from leaders who unashamedly say they like nuclear power.

Aside: I want anyone who is elected to be President to avoid negative nuclear actions like appointing a known antinuclear activist as the Chairman of the NRC. I want politicians in the House, Senate and White House who recognize that energy priorities are skewed when the appropriation bill includes a five year extension of the wind and solar Investment Tax Credit that will cost ~ $5,000,000,000/year to deploy mature technology but provides a total of less than $1,000,000,000/year for every DOE program that remotely supports nuclear energy development. End Aside.

The mission that Atomic Insights has willingly accepted is to establish the conditions that give liberal and progressive politicians permission to talk openly about their support of nuclear science, engineering, and innovation as vital tools that will enable achievement of a clean, abundant energy future.

History note: The Democratic Debate discussed above took place on January 17, 2016, 61 years to the day after the USS Nautilus, the first nuclear powered vessel of any kind, reported that it was “Underway on nuclear power.”

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