We must continue to lead in nuclear

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During his State of the Union address, President Obama spoke to the “all of the above” energy approach we need as a country. However, he failed to mention a crucial form of American-made energy that benefits millions of Americans through good jobs and lower energy bills: Nuclear.

Nuclear energy employs more than 100,000 Americans in well-paying jobs across the country. These jobs pay 36 percent more than average salaries, providing a stable, livable income for thousands of American families — and the increased opportunity that comes with it.

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In my home state of Illinois, our 11 nuclear reactors support more than 5,000 high-skilled jobs and provide over 48 percent of the state’s energy. For Illinoisans, this crucial source of energy keeps heating prices low in the subzero winters and helps local businesses compete on a national and global scale.

In addition, unlike other energy sources, which often come from volatile regions of the world and are subject to unpredictable price swings, nuclear energy has the potential to produce large amounts of reliable, environmentally friendly energy. Nuclear energy production emits no greenhouse gases, accounting for 64 percent of domestic emission-free energy production.

While this source of energy has been utilized safely in the United States for over half a century, much of the world is just beginning to take advantage of its benefits, opening a massive global market to which U.S. manufacturers could export our parts, materials, and expertise.

According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, there are 172 new nuclear plant projects being licensed or planned around the world, with 71 currently under construction. The Commerce Department estimates that the international market for equipment and services to construct these plants over the next 10 years will be $500 billion to $750 billion. That’s a lot of new orders for domestic manufactures, which will make the parts and supply the needed expertise to build these reactors — and create a lot of new American jobs.

In addition, meeting the new demand for nuclear energy through American suppliers has immeasurable benefits to our national security. Since the 1950s, the U.S. has sought to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons around the world through the regulated trade of American-designed nuclear parts. This approach has been very successful in ensuring our highest-in-the-world standards are met for plant safety in other countries and that nuclear production is used for purely peaceful purposes.

Unlike decades ago, the U.S. now has a lot of competition. Countries that seek to import nuclear facilities now have a variety of host countries to choose from, including France, Japan, Russia and South Korea — with China and India not far behind. Losing out to these countries not only hurts American jobs, it endangers our national security through the possible spread of unregulated nuclear material. 

To maintain America’s role in the responsible expansion of nuclear energy around the world, we need to ensure that politics stops at the water’s edge. In other words, when negotiating nuclear agreements with other countries, we need to ensure our government speaks with one voice.

Unlike many of our competitors, the U.S. government must reach an agreement with the importing country known as a “123 Agreement.” These agreements set the terms that rightly protect our designs and national security, but reaching agreement is not a given. If our branches of government are not unified in negotiations, it can open the door for countries with much lower standards, like Russia, to step in. This is bad for nuclear safety around the world and for the proliferation of unsafe nuclear materials, not to mention a real loss for the American economy.

Congress recently prevented the expiration of our 123 Agreement with South Korea by passing a two-year extension. I was glad to see this happen, but more education is needed to ensure there is a future for new agreements around the world to support American workers and protect our national security.

Nuclear energy has been a vital part of our energy makeup for the last half century, lowering heating bills, bringing well-paying jobs to our communities, and helping ensure our national security. It can and should continue to play a vital role in helping us finally reach energy independence. With new opportunities to create more jobs and stability for American families on the line, we must ensure we do not let government inconsistency keep us from realizing nuclear energy’s full potential.

 

Kinzinger has represented northern Illinois congressional districts since 2011. He sits on the Energy and Commerce and the Foreign Affairs committees.