While some continue to exert tireless effort and spend millions of tax payer dollars researching and improving upon alternative clean energy sources like wind and solar, others are wasting no time re-educating the public on the benefits of our existing clean energy source: nuclear.
As far back as his 2010 State of the Union address President Obama begin setting the record straight on what he felt nuclear energy brings to the table and why it’s a necessary part of this country’s energy portfolio: “To create more clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. And that means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country.”
Building more nuclear energy facilities brings about a myriad of consumer benefits, including increased access to a reliable, less expensive form of energy. The National Academy of Sciences in a 2009 report said that the cost of nuclear power is equal to or lower than natural gas, wind, solar, or coal with carbon capture. Reactors can operate for 80 years, while wind and solar last about 25 years. And nuclear reactors operate 90 percent of the time, while wind and solar are only available about a third of the time. Reliability and cost-efficient translate into lower utility rates for consumers.
With a focus on the environment and in the wake of the Fukishima disaster, nuclear has had to battle some bad press. However, despite what extreme environmentalist might have you believe, nuclear is a clean source of energy. Nuclear power emits zero greenhouse gases. Today it produces 20 percent of our nation’s electricity, but 70 percent of our carbon-free electricity; and due to vigorous safety inspections and regulations mandated by the industry, the United States has maintained its record of safety for over 30 years.
In the American Lung Association’s 2012 State of the Air report St. Lucie County in Florida was listed as one of America’s five cleanest in terms of air quality. No coincidence, St. Lucie County is home to St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plant.
“The use of nuclear power in the region and a minimized use of coal are also positive factors toward achieving high air quality,” said Andrew Cuddihy, program director for the South Florida region of the American Lung Association. “Nuclear power is a huge benefit to that area in terms of reducing air pollution.”
The benefit that, perhaps, most strikes the chord of relevance with consumers right now are the prospective job opportunities made possible by the production and operation of nuclear electricity generating plants. According to the Clean and Safe Energy (CASEnergy) Coalition, nuclear offers the promise of thousands of well paying, long-term jobs in communities across the country. The industry currently supports more than 100,000 jobs, and will need to hire approximately 25,000 new workers over the next four years to keep up with the rate of retiring baby boomers, CASEnergy reports.
Florida, which has experienced an average growth in Gross State Product of 4.6% each year over the past 5 years, estimates that if a new plant were built in the sunshine state it would mean 1,400 to 1,800 construction jobs, with the majority at the plant site; 400-500 full-time, skilled professional worker jobs; and 400-500 jobs for the surrounding communities.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nuclear energy had the highest green goods and services (GGS) employment with 68 percent of all industry jobs classified as a green job. Employees at U.S. nuclear plants earn salaries approximately 40% more than average earnings in communities near the plants. The average annual salary for nuclear engineers is $80,000.
The nation continues to struggle with unemployment, and minority communities battle higher unemployment rates than others. Given the economic opportunities nuclear energy provides, it’s essential that the industry flourishes.
The recent re-focus on nuclear has been characterized as a ‘quiet comeback’ or a ‘reemergence,’ but the fact is that nuclear never left. It’s been here steadily producing the type of energy it takes to run this country in a safe, clean, reliable way, and providing employment opportunities along the way. Choosing not to see it as good for consumers any longer is a gaffe this nation and its communities can no longer afford.