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Nuclear power: Zero carbon power generation

Nuclear Power

The energy sector has long been vocal about the importance of keeping nuclear as a baseload resource in our country’s power generation portfolio. Unlike coal and natural gas, nuclear power emits no greenhouse gases or air pollution—all while producing massive amounts of reliable electric power. We should celebrate nuclear for what it is—zero carbon power generation.

According to Maria Korsnick, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI): “Nuclear energy is the largest source of emissions-free electricity in the United States. Currently, 99 reactors in 30 states produce nearly 20 percent of our nation’s electricity and approximately 60 percent of our carbon-free electricity. Nuclear produces electricity 24/7 and has the added benefit of having all its fuel on site for 18-to-24 months. The long horizon for nuclear fuel procurement also means nuclear generation is not subject to price spikes occasionally experienced by other generation sources in recent years.”

Without considerable infrastructure programs in place, renewable power, such as solar and wind, currently aren’t scalable and reliable enough to provide the needed power to replace existing nuclear and fossil burning power plants. So why aren’t we pointing out the importance of nuclear in our nation’s power generation portfolio mix?

First, nuclear power produces radioactive waste, which must be carefully stored and monitored. Currently, there isn’t a way to safely eliminate this waste. Nuclear power also has an unfavorable public reputation, most recently caused by the Fukushima tsunami disaster, massive cost overruns in new nuclear construction, and arguably, the recent bankruptcy of Westinghouse. Nuclear is also an extremely complicated technology requiring significant regulatory oversight.

Are we counting the cost-benefits of nuclear power correctly, and are we taking its positive contribution to society into account? In our home state of Pennsylvania, we have some of the highest per-capita energy related carbon dioxide emissions in the country. We currently rank third out of 50 for the worst air quality from emissions released at the location where fossil fuels are combusted. Also, it’s no coincidence that we have one of the highest rates of childhood asthma, early on-set lung-cancer, and premature deaths related to pollution in the entire nation, according to the American Lung Association. In our region, it will only become worse as nuclear power plants continue to shut down.

Rather than avoid our responsibility to protect our environment and the risks posed in the U.S., we must actively pursue policies and technologies that promotes decarbonization. We should begin with acknowledging nuclear energy’s place in our country’s zero carbon power portfolio. New developments in nuclear reactor technology are designing applications to consume nuclear waste, while eliminating the threat of a potential meltdown. As for safety, nuclear power has the fewest number of accidental deaths per unit of energy generated of all major sources of energy, including solar. Engage cares deeply about reducing our reliance on fossil fuels for the sake of our future generations. This is why we have dedicated ourselves to promoting renewable and sustainable energy production. The question is, should nuclear power be abandoned or embraced by policy makers?

There are no clear-cut solutions, and there are many aspects to consider when discussing the role of nuclear power.  We invite you to weigh in on this subject and share your insights with us. Our goal is to create a community of industry professionals who wish to engage in constructive dialogue. We welcome your contribution. Utility and nuclear power industry professionals, we would especially love to hear from you!