What's the value of nuclear energy to the United States?

To achieve America's energy, environmental and economic goals, there is no better generator of electricity and jobs than U.S. nuclear energy.

As a reliable source of steady electricity, nuclear energy serves an important role in U.S. grid stability. Even as regional grids become more sophisticated in managing fluctuating input from renewable sources, there remains a base-load requirement to maintain an on-demand minimum generation level. Nuclear energy provides this grid certainty by generating its maximum amount of electricity more often than any other electricity source — on average, more than 90 percent of the time. Life extension technologies, like AREVA's new cavitation peening for reactor heads, help utilities ensure continued safe generation for another 40 years.

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Though many of the U.S. nuclear facilities were built in the 1970s, they have been continuously updated with the latest technology and fuel designs. Think of a '71 Chevrolet Chevelle SS with a modern 300-horsepower electric motor under the hood, digital-responsive suspension and new safety systems. By installing advanced components and fine-tuning operations, utilities' output enhancements (uprates) to nuclear reactors have added major low-carbon generation ability to the existing U.S. nuclear fleet.

There is a lot of untapped power in the existing nuclear fleet — about 50 percent of U.S. nuclear reactors have uprate potential, which would be the equivalent of adding eight to 10 new nuclear reactors to the U.S. fleet. For example, five reactor uprates can equal the added output of one new nuclear reactor, or the electricity needed to power 740,000 American homes.

On the regulatory side, there is opportunity to advance nuclear energy, too. We are looking forward to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) implementing a pragmatic approach to regulation and a streamlined compliance review process.

Nuclear energy is already a significant part of America’s energy portfolio — representing 19 percent of all U.S. electricity. But of greater importance to our nation's increasing demand for clean-air power sources, nuclear energy generates 63 percent of our low-carbon electricity. Along with the benefit to the air we breathe, the high energy density of nuclear power means using a lot less land to produce significant amounts of on-demand, steady electricity. That's a win for both traditional environmentalists and the new ecomodernists seeking to leverage advanced technology to centralize society's impacts and decouple our reliance on using environmental resources.

A primary concern of the nuclear industry is receiving full value for its low-emission electricity generation. As noted by the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) proposed Clean Power Plan undervalues nuclear energy by crediting only 6 percent of existing nuclear generating capacity when calculating states' target emission rates. Also, the rule's rate-setting calculation includes the future generation of nuclear facilities that are still under construction as if they are already generating at 90 percent capacity. This approach negates any credit the states receive for new nuclear energy plants. To effectively act on climate concerns, we need to act to remove these restraints on achieving a new energy vision.

Other than copious amounts of low-carbon electricity, every nuclear power plant is a huge asset to the local community and the nation in terms of jobs and economic stimulus. The significant economic benefits U.S. nuclear energy facilities provide include about 800 jobs per site, above-average wages, $20 million in state and local taxes, plus $400 million to $1 billion (for multi-unit sites) in state and local economic benefits per year.

There's an educational benefit, too. In the next few years, the nuclear energy industry will need a large supply of next-generation employees. Nuclear utilities and AREVA are actively supporting and sponsoring science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in regional elementary schools up through graduate studies to create the next wave of skilled employees. Nuclear energy facilities are economic powerhouses driving and sustaining economic growth.

Nuclear energy is an all-of-the-above energy strategy: reliable electricity, significant low-emission power source, good-paying jobs. That's the value of nuclear energy to the U.S.

We need more nuclear energy, not less.

Mignogna is president and CEO of AREVA Inc., the leading nuclear energy supplier in the United States.


This piece is part of America's Nuclear Energy Future series, sponsored by the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI). For more information about NEI, visit nei.org/futureofenergy.