A few months ago, I argued that President Donald Trump should take advantage of the opportunities offered by our domestic nuclear power plants. I am now happy to say that this appears to be happening.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry recently had some very positive things to say about nuclear, including this: “I believe no clean energy portfolio is truly complete without nuclear power — and so does the president.”
Those are heartening words to hear if you believe, as I do, that nuclear energy is a critical part of our energy mix — and a critical factor in our energy dominance
The reality is that nuclear is also an example of a rare issue that garners support from both sides of the aisle. In fact, Steven Chu and Ernie Moniz, Energy Secretaries under President Barack Obama, touted the benefits of nuclear energy as well. Chu stated, “If we are serious about cutting carbon pollution then nuclear power must be part of the solution.”
Why is nuclear recognized by both Republicans and Democrats for having such a critical role? It is always on and always reliable, 24/7. It accounts for roughly 20 percent of our power supply in the U.S., and in 2016, accounted for 60 percent of America’s clean energy generation. And it is domestic, providing jobs for nearly half a million Americans (in terms of direct and indirect employment) and contributing $60 billion annually to our GDP.
If the president is to restore “energy dominance,” nuclear is the first place to start. China is doubling its nuclear fleet. Russian companies are building nuclear reactors around the world. Here in the U.S., policies that streamline regulations surrounding nuclear are desperately needed to foster the construction of new plants. These new plants would not only allow us to keep up with other countries, they would also create additional jobs and economic stimulation in the process.
Nuclear is currently facing major challenges due to low natural gas prices combined with policies that value other forms of zero-emission energy, like wind and solar, over nuclear.
Recently we have seen positive developments at the state level when it comes to valuing nuclear energy more appropriately. Illinois and New York are two notable examples, and they also provide further evidence of the bipartisan nature of support for nuclear.
In Illinois, Republican Governor Bruce Rauner supported legislation that paved the way for two at-risk nuclear plants to remain open. In New York, Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo drove the implementation of a Clean Energy Standard program that values nuclear for being zero-emission and has helped a number of nuclear plants in the state to avoid closing. Hopefully, other states will see the light as well and work towards policies that keep nuclear plants open for the duration of their useful lifespan — allowing Americans to breathe cleaner air and enjoy around-the-clock, carbon-free electricity at a low cost.
The bottom line is that nuclear is a key part of the diversity, security and reliability of our energy supply. State and federal governments should act now to continue to recognize and protect the economic and environmental value of nuclear energy in the U.S.
Former Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) is a member of the Advocacy Council of Nuclear Matters, a national coalition that works to inform the public and policymakers about the benefits of nuclear energy.
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