By Christine Todd Whitman and Stacey Key
The Augusta Chronicle
August 25, 2013

America’s energy future is at a crossroads. The Energy Information Administration projects that our country’s electricity demand will increase 28 percent by 2040. Meeting this demand means investing in short-term solutions like natural gas, but we must continue to invest in long-term, affordable electricity options such as nuclear energy as well.

Although natural gas power plants are being built in many parts of the country, two nuclear reactors are under construction in Burke County to meet Georgia’s growing thirst for power. States are approaching energy issues in their own way. In Georgia, this investment in nuclear energy shows a commitment towards a balanced, sustainable energy future.

Nuclear energy produces more than 25 percent of Georgia’s electricity, making it the single largest source of carbon-free energy in our state. Nuclear energy provides nearly two-thirds of the United States’ carbon-free energy, highlighting the important role that this resource plays in reducing air pollution and protecting our environment.

FURTHERMORE, NUCLEAR energy provides 24/7 large-scale electricity at industry-leading efficiency to support economic growth as well as our household needs.

Our economic future will hinge on decisions we make over the next few years. To that end, energy is not just how we light and cool our homes. Building the energy portfolio for future decades creates high-paying jobs, maintains U.S. competitiveness overseas and ensures that we will have a reliable, affordable electricity portfolio for future generations.

In 2010, nuclear energy facilities employed more than 4,180 Georgians, paid $160 million in wages and $60 million in state and local taxes. Furthermore, the construction of the two reactors at Plant Vogtle will create 5,000 additional jobs and contribute millions in new wages paid.

The nuclear industry provides a vital economic lifeline in Georgia. Utilities such as Georgia Power are reaching out to the minority community to make sure that all Georgians have opportunities to be a part of our dynamic energy future. Last year, the Georgia Minority Suppliers Development Council named Georgia Power the “Corporation of the Year.”

Some opponents of nuclear energy have pointed to what they perceive as high capital costs when compared to other electricity sources. In the short run, low natural gas prices mean that it’s cheaper to build a natural gas-powered plant. However, nuclear is not vulnerable to price fluctuations or supply disruptions that can affect natural gas and renewable sources of energy. When viewed over the 60-year window during which nuclear energy facilities will operate, these facilities are one of the most economical sources of electricity available.

IT’S IMPORTANT for Georgians to be a part of the ongoing discussion about energy and the role nuclear energy plays today and in that future. When faced with an economy that is still recovering and the need to lower emissions, the benefits of nuclear energy become clearer. Nuclear energy won’t solve all of our problems, but coupled with conservation it provides the clearest path to a stable, diversified electricity portfolio and a cleaner energy future.

Georgia has made serious progress toward long-term energy solutions, reliable electricity and environmental preservation while adding jobs and growing its economy. Georgia’s leaders should stress conservation while continuing to grow clean, affordable and reliable nuclear energy as a part of the state’s electricity mix.

(The writers are, respectively, co-chairwoman of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, a former governor of New Jersey and a former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; and the president and CEO of the Georgia Minority Supplier Development Council.)