On the heels of Earth Day, obtaining a more green energy future is no longer a minority goal: these days, almost everyone is interested in taking steps to cut carbon emissions.  That is good news and we should also celebrate nuclear energy for the contribution it makes by providing our country with a carbon-free energy supply.

It may be surprising to some, but nuclear energy is vital to ushering in a greener future for our planet.  It generates almost 20 percent of the nation’s power with virtually no air pollution and is responsible for 63 percent of the country’s carbon-free energy.  That makes nuclear energy the largest source of clean, reliable, mass-produced electricity available today.                                                  

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When compared to the nation’s other major energy sources, nuclear energy facilities have among the lowest impacts on the environment because they do not produce carbon emissions.  Nuclear plants also require a relatively small amount of land upon which to operate.    

Nuclear energy’s contribution to our environment cannot be overstated. In the absence of these facilities, our nation would be hard-pressed to meet state and national emissions goals established by the EPA and the terms agreed upon during last winter’s climate summit in Paris.  In fact, according to a recent study from the Brattle Group, existing nuclear facilities prevent over a half-billion tons of carbon emissions a year.

Despite their environmental benefits, some existing nuclear facilities across the country remain at risk for premature closure.  The shutdown of any of our existing nuclear plants would lead to dire consequences.  Without nuclear energy, we would be missing an indispensible tool in the fight to cut carbon.  For example, after the closure of a New England nuclear power plant in late 2014, the plant’s output was replaced by non-nuclear power sources, which produced 3.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2015, when compared to the previous year.  That is akin to adding more than 650,000 passenger vehicles to the roads in New England during 2015.

An overwhelming majority of Americans already agree that nuclear energy is important to limiting our carbon emissions.  In late fall 2015, a national poll conducted by the Nuclear Energy Institute found that 83 percent of Americans agree that we should take advantage of all low-carbon energy sources, including nuclear, to produce the electricity we need while limiting greenhouse gas emissions.  The same poll also found that 84 percent of participants believed that nuclear power will be “important” in meeting America’s future electricity needs.

Nuclear energy must be recognized for the significant environmental benefits it brings to our country.  This should not be something we think of once a year, but every day; because the sources of carbon-free energy we use today will have a far-reaching impact on future generations.


Lincoln is a former U.S. Senator (D-AR) and a member of the Leadership Council of Nuclear Matters.