The EPA Must Give Nuclear Energy Equal Consideration | Commentary

There is no doubt that the Earth’s climate has changed over the past 50 years, and it is clear that humans have contributed to the accumulation of greenhouse gases. While the science of climate change is evolving, the risks presented by rising temperatures around the globe are sufficiently large to justify enactment of policies at the national and international levels to reduce carbon emissions.

Last week, more than a thousand nuclear scientists and engineers from around the world are gathering at the American Nuclear Society’s annual winter meeting in Anaheim, Calif., to discuss the many facets of nuclear as part of the foundation of clean energy. Our position is simple: nuclear energy is a solution in providing a sustainable, secure energy supply while reducing the nation’s carbon footprint. This role needs to be recognized by key decision-makers such as the Environmental Protection Agency.

The best way to achieve lower greenhouse gas emissions would be through comprehensive legislation that is performance based and technology neutral. However, Congress is clearly not ready to act, and so the EPA has moved forward administratively with its proposed “Clean Power Plan Rule,” which seeks to achieve a 30 percent reduction in carbon emissions from the U.S. electricity sector by 2030. The EPA proposal is laudable in many respects, but it needs significant adjustment before it is enacted. Simply put, the rule fails to fully take into account the role nuclear energy plays in delivering large amounts of reliable, economically competitive electricity with no carbon emissions during reactor operations. In fact, the rule as it is currently structured almost entirely discounts more than 90 percent of the clean energy contributions from our existing nuclear energy facilities.

It’s clear that when nuclear is removed from the energy mix, there are consequences for the environment. A recent study conducted by scientists at the University of California-Berkeley found that the shutdown of the San Onofre nuclear plant in 2012 increased carbon emissions by 9 million tons during the first 12 months, which is the equivalent of adding 2 million cars to the road. If more nuclear plants go offline, these negative environmental impacts will become more pronounced across the nation.

The bottom line: If we are serious as a nation about reducing carbon emissions, nuclear energy must be part of the solution and considered on an equal playing field with other non-emitting energy technologies such as solar and wind.

The public agrees. According to a recent public opinion poll conducted by Bisconti Research, Inc., an overwhelming majority of Americans believes the United States should utilize all low-carbon electricity sources. When asked which energy source provides the most electricity, the study revealed that Americans correctly identified nuclear, since it is the only clean-air source of energy that produces electricity 24 hours a day.

With nuclear energy playing a significant role in our energy mix, the United States will ensure it has access to large amounts of clean, base load electricity essential for the sustainability of modern industrial societies. America’s nuclear professionals are not asking for government handouts or special treatment. We are simply asking for “nuclear equality” — the opportunity to compete on a fair and equal basis with all forms of carbon-free energy generation.

Dr. Michaele Brady Raap is president of the American Nuclear Society.