The United States has taken an important step toward efficiently meeting the country’s rising electricity demand by ensuring a greater supply of clean, safe nuclear power.
With plans in place in Georgia for the construction of the next generation of nuclear energy facilities, this industry expansion will promote economic prosperity and continued development of a sustainable clean energy source. We need a cost-efficient, low-carbon solution to the nation’s increasing electricity demand- projected to rise 24 percent by 2035. Expanding nuclear energy as part of the mix of electricity generation options is necessary to meeting our nation’s growing power needs cleanly and cost-effectively.
As co-chairs of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, a grassroots organization comprising nuclear energy supporters from the business, industry, labor, academic, health, and environmental sectors, we believe that nuclear energy expansion paves the way to create tens of thousands of American jobs, broader economic benefits, and a clean energy future.
This week the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved combined construction and operating licenses (COLs) for two new reactors at the Vogtle nuclear energy facility in Georgia. The Vogtle project has the support of the Obama administration through a Department of Energy loan guarantee as part of the administration’s clean energy initiatives.
These next-generation reactors will power scores of businesses and homes -1.6 million in Georgia alone – and it will do so affordably and reliably. At about two cents per kilowatt-hour, the production cost for electricity at nuclear energy facilities is lower than all other major sources of power. By comparison, energy from natural gas-fueled plants doubles that cost at roughly four cents per kilowatt-hour.
Because of the stable, low price of uranium used to fuel the production of electricity at nuclear energy facilities, the price of electricity from nuclear energy varies little. Georgia residents whose power comes from the new reactors could realize up to $20 in savings on each utility bill by 2034. These two new reactors, Vogtle units 3 and 4, are expected to save Georgia customers up to $6 billion in lower electricity rates over the life of the units as compared to a coal or natural gas plant. These are savings every American needs, deserves, and can have with a greater reliance on nuclear power. The savings complement the more than half a billion in annual tax revenues the communities surrounding the reactors and the state can earn from construction and ongoing plant operation.
The good news for American workers is that new nuclear energy construction creates thousands of jobs and 800 career-long jobs to operate the reactors for at least 60 years. Georgia Power is committed to hiring local workers and suppliers to build the largest construction project ever in the state. These jobs will help abate the near-record unemployment rate, which stands at 9.7 percent in Georgia.
The next generation of nuclear facilities will be safer than ever, beginning with Vogtle Units 3 and 4. New reactor designs being built in Georgia demonstrate the US nuclear energy industry’s commitment to safety. The industry continuously updates and improves its best practices based on lessons learned. The COLs represent a new federal licensing model. Subject to a three-year NRC review, the project undergoes the most rigorous, transparent, and collaborative assessment process of any nuclear proposal to date. During the review, the NRC confirms the safety and environmental protection of the reactor site.
These facilities will be built and operated according to the standards set by the NRC, the industry’s independent regulatory body. As the NRC determines how best to incorporate lessons learned from Fukushima – like all American companies that operate nuclear facilities – Georgia Power will make changes during construction to adhere to NRC requirements. The American nuclear industry is committed to continually updating and improving its best practices throughout the construction and operation of all its facilities. This is an industry that strives not only to meet NRC standards, but exceed them.
The design of the new reactors further testifies to the stringent measures taken to keep Americans safe. Developed out of 50 years of operational experience, the design underwent the NRC’s most thorough pre-construction review ever. Westinghouse’s AP1000 reactor design layers precaution upon precaution, including backup cooling systems that run without human intervention, and a steel and reinforced concrete building shield able to withstand the impact of a natural disaster or even an airliner crash.
Plans for new reactors at Plant Vogtle mark a critical step forward to make America’s energy supply more secure, jumpstart the economy, and protect the environment, all while enhancing safety. The NRC’s license approval reinforces nuclear power’s role as the leading clean-air electricity source. More than 100 reactors in 31 states already produce more than 70 percent of all low-carbon electricity produced in the America.
The simple truth is that more abundant American-made nuclear energy is a vital part of our brighter energy future, but for many decades and many reasons, our nation failed to expand our energy security by building more nuclear facilities. States like Georgia have established the way forward for nuclear energy expansion. With the right policy support, more states should follow their lead to ensure a sustainable clean energy future for all.
Christine Todd Whitman is the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and former New Jersey governor. Dr. Patrick Moore is a co-founder and former leader of Greenpeace. Together they co-chair the industry-funded Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, a national grassroots coalition that promotes the economic and environmental benefits of nuclear expansion as part of a sustainable clean energy portfolio.
Photo: Workers at the construction site of a third-generation nuclear reactor.