Nuclear Energy: A Path Forward for Environmental Advocates

As a former Environmental Protection Agency administrator and director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, I have long championed accountability and stewardship for the planet — a sense of ownership over the role we play in the fate of our world.

More specifically, I have championed the importance of clean air, clean energy and the necessity for solutions that advance environmental preservation and combat climate change. That is why I support maintaining our existing fleet of nuclear power plants and the carbon-free energy it provides to our homes, businesses and communities.

In the United States, the energy industry — often viewed as an international bellwether of energy trends — is at a pivotal juncture. Nuclear energy could soon disappear due to policies at the state and federal level that do not value its unique properties.

Nuclear power generates one-fifth of total energy in the United States and more than 56 percent of our carbon-free energy. Currently, there are nine nuclear power plants scheduled to close prematurely by 2025, and once these facilities are taken offline, they will likely be replaced by plants that burn fossil fuels for energy.

A recent study by The Brattle Group looked at the impact of four of these plants, located in Ohio and Pennsylvania that are slated to close. It found that, should these facilities close as scheduled, it would reverse more than two decades of environmental benefits gained from solar and wind resources in the region. That’s right — 25 years of commitment to carbon-free energy solutions erased, along with billions of dollars in customer and taxpayer investment accumulated over time.

When nuclear facilities are taken offline, the energy they generate is often replaced by carbon and pollutant-emitting fossil fuel sources. In fact, the Brattle report found that the four nuclear power plants pending closure in Ohio and Pennsylvania displace 21 million metric tons of carbon annually – that’s the equivalent to the emissions from 4.5 million cars. And again, that number doesn’t even factor in the emissions from the other facilities across the country that are scheduled to close.

The impact of closing nuclear facilities, however, stretches far beyond our borders. America has long been an international leader in nuclear energy production and clean energy innovation. If we continue to let nuclear power plants close, we will concede our global leadership to countries like Russia and China, jeopardizing our ability to meet climate and energy security goals. We should consider America’s role in leading the clean energy revolution that is transforming the way we power our homes, businesses and economy for the better.

While renewable energy sources like wind and solar are coming online faster than ever, they are not yet generating the amount of carbon-free energy needed to replace the amount produced by our existing nuclear power plants. In an era where federal agencies are rolling back climate change mitigation measures like the Clean Power Plan and the cleaner cars standard, basically removing limits on carbon pollution from its two largest domestic sources, we need the carbon-free power provided by our existing nuclear power plants. In my mind, it’s simple: If you’re for clean energy and fighting climate change, you should be for our existing nuclear energy.

New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and Illinois have shown leadership by developing policy solutions that recognize and value the benefits of carbon-free nuclear energy. If we are serious about fighting climate change, we need other states, as well as the federal government, to follow their lead.

Our existing nuclear power fleet is vital to the stability of our energy grid and critical to ensuring we have clean air and a healthy planet for many more years to come.


Carol M. Browner, former Environmental Protection Agency administrator, is a member of the Nuclear Matters Advocacy Council.

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