Just a day after the Clean and Safe Energy (CASEnergy) Coalition released its latest white paper titled, “Balancing Long-Term Energy Planning with Near-Term Energy Opportunity: An Exploration of Nuclear Infrastructure Investment in a Low-Price Natural Gas Market,” CASEnergy Co-Chair and former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman further explained how investing in nuclear energy infrastructure is an ideal effort for America’s communities, economy and health.
In an exclusive interview with Politic365, Whitman addressed minorities’ role in nuclear energy industry and shared the benefits of the alternative energy source for women and low-income households, and the primary obstacle the United States will face as it relates to acheiving long-term investment in America’s energy future.
Opportunities for Minorities in Nuclear Energy
As today’s minority population grows closer to becoming the nation’s majority, Whitman expressed that there are innumerable roles minorities can partake as the nation moves forward in achieving energy diversity for its future, especially since they have not been as involved in the nuclear energy. The roles included a range of employment opportunities to construct and maintain the nuclear industry. In addition, she thinks that the minority community’s voice is imperative for the nuclear energy industry.
“The minority community is extraordinarily important as a voice on the need for long-term thinking and the appropriate mix of energy going forward because that’s what going to guarantee our ability to continue to see economic growth as a nation, and that benefits everybody,” she said. “Their voice being heard is particularly important in another aspect, and that is for clean energy because so many times we have seen utilities located in low-income communities because they didn’t have the voice to fight back.”
Whitman, a former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, said that the absence of and the lack of encouragement to use the minority community’s voice to the degree that it should or could has compromised the quality of life due to air quality. According to her, nuclear energy is the only energy source that does not release any regulated pollutants while it is producing power. She sees nuclear energy as an all-around benefit for all communities.
She hopes that the new EPA administrator and all succeeding ones focus on the Clean Air Act and clean water because they go hand-in-hand.
Easing the Nuclear Energy Worries of Low-Income Households and the Majority of Women
“Lower income families are more vulnerable to energy costs than higher-income families because energy represents a larger portion of their household budgets. Energy is consuming one-fifth or more of the household incomes of lower-and middle-income families reducing the amount of income that can be spent on food, housing, health care, and other necessities,” according to a report that analyzed how energy costs impact American families.
Aware of the fact that low-income households bear the brunt of high-energy bills, Whitman believes that the use of nuclear energy paired with “a properly balanced” energy policy reduces high energy bill costs because nuclear energy is only 31 percent of the total fuel cost while natural gas is 80 percent of the total fuel cost. With that in mind, Whitman said that nuclear energy also gives consumers a reliable energy source as well as a better opportunity to control and manage their household energy bills.
Further, some people have other concerns about nuclear energy. One year after the Fukishima crisis of 2011, Gallup polled 1,024 American adults on their support for nuclear energy as an electricity source, and the results indicated that a gender gap may exist as far as their attitudes toward the energy source. While 72 percent of men favored nuclear energy, 51 percent of women opposed it. Whitman believes that women’s concern for safety may be one of the factors fueling their opposition. However, she suggests that women and men who are concerned about the safety of nuclear energy consider its half-century-old safety record.
“Look at the safety record of 50 years, that is 50 years of nuclear in this country and you see that it is been enormously safe. It is one of the safest industries in which to work,” Whitman said. “Organizations outside of the nuclear community have verified that.”
She also said that nuclear energy is one of the most highly regulated industries nationally and globally. Whitman also added that the nuclear energy industry and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission are highly sensitive to safety concerns and that they are constantly looking for ways to make it safer.
Additionally, she mentioned that people will often refer to the disastrous Three Mile Island, but mentioned that the utility operators who were there during the incident were not exposed to a high level of radiation and that additional studies have shown that there are no cancer-clusters as a result of the event.
She also said that nuclear energy is stored safely in the form of pellets in rods at all 104 reactors across the country. Whitman further explained that if one were to gather all the rods together, they would be the width of one football field and the height of a goal post. They are located underground or in bunkers reinforced with concrete.
“Safety is a major concern of everyone. CASEnergy does feel that there should be a national repository for these rods, and Congress has called for that, but so far they haven’t agreed on where it is,” she added. “They’ve designated a site, but because of leadership in the Senate that has not moved forward.”
Obstacle facing U.S. Long-Term Investment in America’s Energy Future
According to CASEnergy’s white paper, the nation’s energy grid will be an obstacle to long-term investment in America’s energy future.
“Even if we don’t bring another kilowatt of new power, we’re going to have to do something about our energy grid. It is old. It is starting to degenerate. It needs to be upgraded,” Whitman said. “There is money that is going to have to be spent and that is unfortunately going to be reflective in all of our energy bills overtime.”
Whitman, who made clear that there is bipartisan support for nuclear energy, said that government action as another element to progressing nuclear energy infrastructure investment.
“For many of the new energy facilities coming on, whether its nuclear or one of the new renewable powers such as wind and solar, one of the key ingredients to being able to move that forward is government policy.”