Exploring the Nuclear Option in the Wake of the EPA’s Clean Power...

Exploring the Nuclear Option in the Wake of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan


The Environmental Protection Agency recently cracked down on carbon-pollution emission standards by releasing a Clean Power Plan that aims to cut carbon pollution by 30 percent above 2005 levels by 2030.  In view of this goal, alternative energy sources, like wind, solar, and nuclear, will likely become more viable options for producing carbon-free electricity.

According to an article in the New York Post, “in 2004, coal made up 49 percent of America’s net electricity generation, while renewables made up less than 1 percent. Today, coal generation is down 10 percent, and carbon-free sources, including nuclear, make up more than 25 percent of electricity generation.”

Former EPA Administrator Carol Browner, who is a member of the Leadership Council of Nuclear Matters, has said that “the use of energy from nuclear-power plants across the country avoids almost 600 million metric tons of carbon pollution a year. To avoid that much carbon pollution from cars would require removing more than 100 million cars from the road.” Likewise, mindful of the potential health and climate benefits associated with decreasing carbon production, Christine Todd Whitman, co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition and former EPA Administrator recently wrote an op-ed that outlined the benefits of nuclear energy:

[quote] Nuclear energy already provides one in five American homes and businesses with electricity, and represents 63 percent of our clean-air and carbon-free electricity. And nuclear energy’s contribution is set to grow as five new reactors are under construction — providing more clean energy that our economy and environment demand. America’s commercial reactors are carbon-free and are also one of the most efficient and reliable producers of electricity — operating 24/7 at industry-leading reliability. These facilities generate electricity on the hottest of days, the coldest of nights, when the wind isn’t blowing and when the sun isn’t shining.

America’s decades-long leadership in nuclear energy means that every year, we prevent the emission of 570 million metric tons of carbon pollution – essentially the same amount of carbon emitted by almost all U.S. passenger cars…. The loss of just five reactors will raise carbon emissions by more than 40 million tons per year….

Embracing more clean-air technologies will not only help reduce carbon emissions, it will also help reduce environmental pollutants that cause smog, acid rain, and contribute to asthma. For decades, nuclear energy has been recognized first as a power source free of any criteria pollutants — no sulfur dioxide, no nitrogen oxides, no soot, and no mercury. Regardless of where you stand on the climate change debate, clean, breathable air is something on which we can all agree. [/quote]

As Browner and Whitman aptly note, nuclear energy provides an array of benefits, and as Celeste Lecompte recently outlined in an investigative feature for The Atlantic, it’s a lot safe than the American public has come to believe. With the EPA calling for lower carbon emissions in the years ahead, strategies to increase nuclear energy use should be front and center in any strategy aimed at increasing American energy independence and sustainability.