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Judd Gregg: A novel nuclear option

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Here is a novel idea. Let’s ask the presidential campaigns in both parties to try to find some common ground.   

A place to start would be with something that will help our nation’s economy and improve our competitiveness.  

Of course, it cannot be a big issue like tax reform or a hot-button issue like immigration reform. Those issues are too contentious to allow for anything other then the high theater of politics.  

No, it needs to be something that has substantive impact but where the two sides’ interests overlap. 

You may not believe that such an issue exists, of course, nor that the present clatter of chaotic name-calling can be overcome.

But let me suggest one important issue where there may be a confluence of interests — a place where the two sides, although seeing things differently, should still arrive at the same conclusion.

It is the role of nuclear power in our energy and environmental policy.   

Specifically, the conversation should focus on keeping the country’s existing nuclear energy plants operating for the full duration of their useful life.

Of the hundred or so nuclear plants producing energy in the United States, many of them are at risk of closing prematurely.

Why would liberals be concerned or even supportive of the idea of keeping them running as an essential part of a national energy plan?

The answer is simple: carbon emissions.  

President Obama and the pretenders to his office, specifically Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonPoll: Large majority says loser should accept election results Al Smith V: Trump 'crossed the line' at charity roast Al Smith Dinner I attended was different than one I read about MORE, have made it clear that they view global warming as the primary threat to our country and the world.  

Recently, under the guidance of the president, the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled a proposal that called on states to reduce their carbon emissions. This plan was called the Clean Power Plan. If it is pursued, the plan will mandate that states dramatically reduce the power produced from carbon-emitting plants.

Sixty-three percent of the non-carbon-emitting power produced in this nation is nuclear power. About 20 percent of all power produced in America is nuclear-based. 

Most liberals would prefer to reduce carbon emissions by looking toward other sources rather than nuclear power. But the problem is — like the old joke about a New Englander who was asked by a New Yorker for directions home and was told, “You can’t get there from here” —  it is impossible to get the carbon reductions the left feels are needed without nuclear power.  

Every time a nuclear plant is closed prematurely, the non-carbon-emitting power it produces is replaced by carbon-emitting power.  

We have already seen this in New England where the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant was closed decades early and its power is being replaced by carbon sources.  

In Massachusetts, the Pilgrim plant is scheduled to close in 2019. It accounts for more than 79 percent of the non-carbon-emitting power production in the commonwealth.

If you are concerned about global warming produced by carbon emissions, every time a nuclear power plant is closed before its time, you are pursuing a “cutting off your nose to spite your face” policy.

Without nuclear power — and specifically the plants that are threatened for premature closure — liberals cannot have a credible policy on reducing carbon emissions and addressing the causes of global warming as they see them.

Republicans should also want these plants to remain operational — not only because it is a rational way to address carbon emission, but because it is good economic and energy policy.  

Nuclear power is not only non-carbon-emitting. It is reliable and it adds diversity to our electric-generating mix.

In the period of the last polar vortex, when temperatures dropped to extreme lows and stayed there, it was nuclear power that got the Northeast and Midwest through the period without major blackouts. 

All the other energy sources were severely stressed. But nuclear power, including the plants threatened with premature closure, kept our neighborhoods warm, producing power 24/7. 

In addition, nuclear power gives us diversity of supply. 

With the gas revolution there is a tendency to want to move everything towards gas-powered plants. This would be a grave mistake. It would be an all-eggs-in-one-basket approach.

Nuclear power needs to be kept in the mix to protect ourselves from over-reliance on one form of energy.

This is the place where the two sides can come together, even in this season of political hyperbole. Their goals may be different but the way to achieve them is by keeping these plans running.   

Agreement maybe a novel idea. In this case, it is also a needed approach.

Judd Gregg (R) is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, and as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Foreign Operations subcommittee. He has endorsed Jeb Bush in this year's presidential race.