The latest candidate to replace Gov. Jerry Brown is a Berkeley resident best known as one of the nation’s most vocal advocates for nuclear power.

Michael Shellenberger, the 46-year-old founder of the Breakthrough Institute think tank, announced his candidacy for governor Thursday afternoon during a panel conversation at the ClimateTech conference in San Francisco. Shellenberger, who in an interview called himself a lifelong Democrat, plans to run as an independent.

He will join a growing field that includes well-financed front-runners Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Antonio Villaraigosa, the former mayor of Los Angeles.

Shellenberger rose to prominence as a writer and public speaker arguing that nuclear power is essential to fighting climate change, a position he says the environmental movement has grown too calcified to accept. More recently, he has campaigned against plans by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to close Diablo Canyon, California’s last nuclear power plant. In 2016, he launched the organization Environmental Progress to push for nuclear technology’s use.

Although he announced his candidacy Thursday during a panel discussion of nuclear power’s future, he said beforehand that his campaign would focus on other issues as well.

“We have some of the highest taxes in the country and some of the lowest-performing schools,” he said. “It’s a broken system.”

Should he win, however, Shellenberger said, he would create a “citizens’ jury” to decide the fate of both Diablo Canyon and Southern California’s San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, which shut down in 2012.

“I feel pretty confident that the public, once they weigh the evidence, will want to keep Diablo Canyon open and restart San Onofre,” he said. “But if they don’t, I’ll respect the will of the people.”

David R. Baker is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @DavidBakerSF


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An environmental activist from Northern California has announced his candidacy for governor and his top campaign platform is to break up the troubled state utilities commission.

Michael Shellenberger, founder of the pro-nuclear group Environmental Progress, said Gov. Jerry Brown and the California Public Utilities Commission are responsible for creating some of the highest energy rates in the United States.

He also blames Brown and the utility regulators he appointed for the “corrupt” deal that assigned customers $3.3 billion in costs related to the premature shutdown of the San Onofre nuclear plant and said he wants to secure a cleaner energy future by promoting nuclear power.

Shellenberger listed eight key pledges he said would lower energy costs, reduce poverty, improve education and promote cleaner sources of power. His first pledge is: “Break up the corrupt California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), release secret emails and prosecute the criminals.”

The commission was the subject of a criminal investigation by former Attorney General Kamala Harris, although it’s unclear where the probe stands under her successor, Xavier Becerra. The investigation centered on emails showing potentially improper communications between regulators and the utility companies they are supposed to oversee. San Diego consumer attorney Mike Aguirre has a number of lawsuits against the commission, including one demanding release of more emails.

A resident of Berkeley, Shellenberger is the founder and president of Environmental Progress, a nonprofit group that advocates for nuclear power across the country and world. The group is committed to preserving the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant on California’s central coast that has been scheduled for closure.