By Christine Todd Whitman
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
December 22, 2011

As state leaders struggle to meet rising energy demand in a sluggish economy, some are embracing nuclear energy as a solution that provides jobs as well as affordable electricity.
Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee and Virginia are among the states that are expanding the role of nuclear in their energy portfolios to provide a stable power supply that powers economic growth.

As the former governor of a state that relies on nuclear energy for nearly half of its electricity, I can attest to these benefits. Nuclear energy is both a reliable, carbon-free source of electricity as well as a job-creating industry with the potential to reinvigorate local economies. With growing populations and unemployment rates that teeter at double digits, states should include nuclear energy in their electricity mix.

Today the U.S. nuclear energy industry supports more than 100,000 jobs, and electric utilities are planning to build eight or more nuclear energy facilities over the next 15 years. If these plans are realized, the construction and operation of new facilities will require thousands of skilled workers.

New reactors create 2,400 jobs during the construction phase and 400 to 700 permanent positions once they are in operation, providing $40 million in total labor income. On average, a 1,000 megawatt nuclear energy facility produces $470 million in economic activity a year.

The positive impact of the nuclear energy industry on Virginia’s economy was one of the themes at Gov. Bob McDonnell’s recent energy conference. At this gathering of business, government and non-profit energy leaders, I was encouraged by the number of discussions that focused on the future of nuclear energy, in Virginia and across the United States.

“Virginia’s efforts to become the Energy Capital of the East Coast include support for investment in clean and safe nuclear energy,” said McDonnell, and it seems these investments are paying off. With four commercial reactors and robust manufacturing, engineering and testing facilities, Virginia’s nuclear energy industry generated $1.25 billion in sales of materials, services and fuel in 2009, the most recent year for which data are available.

Those numbers might help explain why a recent Quinnipiac University poll showed that 71 percent of Virginia voters approve of using nuclear energy to produce electricity, and 60 percent support the construction of new nuclear energy facilities in the state.

In Georgia, the construction of two new reactors near Augusta will be the largest construction project in the state’s history. Southern Co. has begun pre-construction activities and already created 1,500 jobs in preparation for two new reactors in Burke County. The construction phase alone is estimated to provide several billion dollars to the local economy.

This expansion is expected to create 3,500 jobs at peak construction, along with up to 800 full-time positions once the reactors are producing electricity for nearly 1.6 million Georgia homes.

Existing nuclear energy facilities are also generating jobs. Over the next five years almost 40 percent of the nuclear energy work force will be eligible to retire, leaving the industry with as many as 25,000 jobs to fill over a broad range of disciplines.

Of course, nuclear energy doesn’t just create jobs – it keeps the lights on and powers our high-tech society. Virginia relies on nuclear energy more than any other source, with 36 percent of the state’s electricity produced at the North Anna and Surry facilities. In states like Illinois, Vermont and South Carolina, nuclear energy facilities reliably meet about half or more of the states’ electricity needs.

Even with conservation efforts, Americans will continue to increase their use of electricity, and we all want it to be affordable and clean. By 2035, America will need 24 percent more electricity than it consumes today. Electricity produced at nuclear energy facilities costs less per kilowatt-hour than all other major sources of electricity, making it an attractive energy option for state and consumer budgets alike.

There is no other source that generates as much electricity, as reliably, while producing no greenhouse gases. Nuclear energy provides 70 percent of America’s clean air electricity.

And while renewable energy sources such as wind and solar offer tremendous clean air benefits, they aren’t reliable enough yet to provide power when we need it the most and are not practical options for states where these resources are limited. Wind and solar power systems will best meet our clean energy needs in combination with baseload 24/7 sources, such as nuclear energy and natural gas.

State leaders should reflect on the examples set by states that are creating and keeping jobs in America and meeting the need for clean, baseload power by including nuclear energy in their clean energy portfolios.


Christine Todd Whitman is the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and former New Jersey governor. She co-chairs the industry-funded Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, a national grass-roots coalition that promotes the economic and environmental benefits of nuclear power as part of a sustainable clean energy portfolio.