Marian Hopkins of Business Roundtable is author of this guest opinion post.
In his State of the Union address this week, President Obama re-emphasized his Administration's commitment to addressing energy and climate change issues. Experts agree there's no one path to tackling these challenges - it's going to take a combination of traditional and alternative sources. That's why the President advocated for a "new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants" as part of a broad-based strategy to reduce emissions and increase our nation's energy independence. We at Business Roundtable share his commitment to advancing this carbon-free energy source.
We recently released a report outlining steps policymakers should take in order to reduce emissions and increase our energy security at a manageable economic cost. Our report found that increasing nuclear power (the only existing scalable, low-carbon base load generation technology) was one of the surest ways to reduce emissions while meeting our rising energy needs - which, according to the Energy Information Administration's 2010 Annual Energy Outlook, are set to grow by 14 percent between 2008 and 2035.
Expanding nuclear energy can also reduce our nation's GHG emissions profile while providing affordable and reliable electricity to a recovering economy. Nuclear has an excellent safety record in the United States and new reactor technology will make nuclear power one of the safest forms of electricity generation. Additionally, continued progress toward the licensing and construction of a permanent disposal facility will further ensure that spent fuel is managed in the safest and most secure manner possible.
Today, about one-fifth of the power we use comes from nuclear energy. That may sound significant, but it is far less than some of our partners in the developed world. France, for instance, derives 75 percent of its electricity from nuclear. The low cost of energy generation with nuclear power has allowed France to strengthen its energy security and become the world's largest net exporter of electricity at between 60 and 80 billion kWh per year, bringing in more than $4.5 billion in annual revenue. Since expanding its nuclear capacity in 1974, France has also minimized its energy imports and now has the lowest pre-tax electricity costs in Europe, not to mention lower emissions.
France's example shows that nuclear must be part of the mix if we're serious about meeting demand, lowering costs, enhancing security and, most importantly, achieving large-scale GHG cuts - all at the same time. Yet, it has been three decades since the last nuclear power plant was built in the United States.
That may change if support in Washington turns into substantial action. Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.), for instance, is promoting an all-inclusive approach towards climate change that could spur greater use of nuclear energy through the authorization of research into modular, small-scale nuclear power plants to help meet energy needs while cutting carbon emissions. In addition, Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) recently argued for taking advantage of our nation's largest contributor of emission-free energy. They also noted that we will not be able to meet emissions reduction targets if nuclear is not leveraged as a core component of America's electricity generation.
A balanced energy portfolio - including nuclear - is likely to be the only approach that has the potential to achieve the large-scale reductions in GHG emissions advocated by the President and many policymakers. Therefore, now is the time to begin taking steps to make our energy more secure while lowering costs and reducing emissions at the same time. Simply put, we can't get there without nuclear.
Additional posts on nuclear power.
'Mutually Assured Construction' - Multiple Nuclear Power Plant Additions Aligned With Energy Security, Defense, & Now Climate Strategy
Nuclear Power: Climate Fix or Folly?
Why There's $54.5 Billion for Nuclear Power in Obama's Budget ...