February 23, 2009

That we are facing an energy crisis in the near future can no longer be denied. The projected 20% increase in electricity demand by 2030 is much closer than we think given the time it takes to bring new energy online. Now, another concern is finally coming to the fore; “clean energy” has evolved from a mantra – something we say we want – into a market – something we are actually willing to buy and invest in. Every facet of our economy is pursuing energy sources that will help us meet our country’s burgeoning demands in an environmentally friendly fashion.

Federal, state and local leaders are pledging significant sums to support technologies that either conserve energy or produce it in environmentally responsible ways – and increasingly, reject those that do not. Solar, wind, geothermal and biomass will play a meaningful role in our energy future, as well as “clean coal” and oil as well as gas. But it is equally clear to many Americans that nuclear energy must continue to serve as the carbon-free foundation for our electricity supply.

While 104 nuclear reactors spread across the country are producing about 20 percent of our electricity needs, they are contributing almost 75 percent of our emissions-free electricity supply. Nuclear power plants helped America avoid almost 700 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, equivalent to taking 99 percent of all passenger cars off the country’s roadways.

In 2006, I joined Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore in leading the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition (CASEnergy), a national grassroots organization that works with allies across the business, environmental, academic, consumer and labor communities to support nuclear energy’s place in our nation’s diverse energy portfolio.

States across the country, recognizing the very real need for both reliable and clean energy are moving rapidly to sow the seeds for the expansion of nuclear energy. Lawmakers in West Virginia are working to lift a moratorium there on new nuclear plants. Oklahoma legislators are weighing a bill that would streamline the state’s regulatory approval process for new reactors. And in Florida, a staff report by its Public Utilities Commission recently recommended adding nuclear energy to the list of energy options that would satisfy the state’s renewable energy requirements.

We need to bring a level of urgency to our national conversation about energy policy. Remember, this isn’t just about meeting current demands, but about a rapidly approaching future increase.

We need to focus on expanding our energy options, not limiting them, especially when one of our chief energy policy goals is less dependence on foreign oil. Nuclear energy is only part of the solution to achieving a sustainable energy future. America must use all its resources – conservation, efficiency, renewable energy, and nuclear energy – if we are going to achieve this goal while addressing issues of global climate change and avoiding brownouts. There is no magic bullet, all options must be on the table as part of a comprehensive plan.