Changing hearts and minds on nuclear power

Until we're able to fuel America and the rest of the world with cleaner forms of renewable energy, we need the ability to generate the electricity necessary to sustain civilization while curbing carbon emissions.  For now, the clamor for less carbon, more renewable fuels, and cleaner energy often ignores one of the cleanest, cheapest, and most abundant supplies of energy on Earth. 

Nuclear power generates about 20 percent of the electricity in the United States today, but it holds the potential to create much more.  Affordable electricity is also a key issue for millions of American seniors who live on fixed incomes and can ill afford higher utility bills.  The 98 nuclear plants currently online in the U.S. contributed more than 73,000 thousand megawatt-hours to the nation's grid in January, making it the third most productive energy source behind coal and natural gas.  But nuclear power generation has remained virtually flat over the past 18 years.  The question is "why?"

Part of the problem is regulatory. There's been a virtual moratorium on new nuclear power plants for some 40 years, with only one plant in Georgia currently under construction.  Another drawback is that nuclear power has a perception problem, rooted in unfounded fears generated by the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island.  But with a more supportive regulatory apparatus and education on the proven safety record of nuclear power — both in America and worldwide — we can begin to usher in a renaissance of clean, affordable nuclear power. 

Changing hearts and minds on how nuclear energy can provide the electricity we need while reducing carbon emissions will not be easy.  One case in point is Dr. Patrick Moore, who served as the co-chairman of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition.  Moore, who helped found Greenpeace, now supports nuclear power and has found himself the target of disdain from militant environmentalists who have branded him, "a sellout, traitor, parasite, and prostitute."

Name calling and fear mongering aside, Moore and many others understand that nuclear power is the single most viable means of generating electricity while helping the environment.  Consider France, which gets about 70% of its electricity from nuclear power.  The French enjoy utility rates that are about 15% below the average of the European Union.  While the use of nuclear power in France is not without its detractors, the high reliability and low cost of electrical power is beyond dispute.

The safety of nuclear power is also well established.  Nothing in life is without risk, and that includes the generation of electrical power.  But data on energy-related accidents and deaths since 1975 show that nuclear power is among the world's safest sources of electricity, resulting in a single accident (Chernobyl) that caused any deaths. 

While it's important to be sensitive to these safety concerns and ensure that nuclear power becomes even safer, it's also important to make sure the American people understand the facts.  Nuclear power cannot replace fossil fuels in all applications — we don't expect nuclear powered aircraft or automobiles any time soon — but it can go a long way toward safely providing inexpensive electricity while helping the environment.