Nuclear energy key to bolstering national security and protecting environment

This is a pivotal time for those of us who believe that the development of clean energy solutions like nuclear energy is the key to protecting the environment and bolstering America's national security. This summer, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will finalize its Clean Power Plan and this fall, the United Nations will convene in Paris to agree to a framework for reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. For these plans to succeed, leaders need solidify a role for emissions-free nuclear energy.

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In my former roles as governor of New Jersey and administrator of the EPA, I have strived to help Americans make informed decisions, especially when it comes to the public policy of climate change, environmental protection and national security. In my current role as co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, I have traveled across the United States engaging policymakers, community leaders, business leaders, academics and labor leaders about the essential role nuclear energy plays in generating electricity.

In the U.S., our electricity needs are forecasted to grow 29 percent by 2040. This time-frame highlights the need for a national energy policy that focuses on the future through investment in infrastructure while maintaining our current portfolio of clean energy solutions. Nuclear energy — with its stable production price and reliable output — has an important role to play. Nuclear energy already provides more than 64 percent of our nation's clean-air electricity, and its long-term benefits simply cannot be replaced by any other energy source — especially when we consider the long-term impacts of climate change.

While actions to prevent climate change may be a divisive issue in some circles, one thing we can all agree should always be at the top of our legislators' lists is ensuring the health of our children. Recent studies show that 8 to 10 percent of American children already suffer from asthma, and climate change will only increase this number. Longer allergy seasons will lead to higher rates of allergy-related asthma, and ground-level ozone pollution will exacerbate lung issues — especially during summer. And since children are the primary sufferers of asthma, they will be vulnerable to long-term health effects in addition to the increase in missed days of school.

Abroad, rapidly growing countries like China and India are hungry for large-scale energy projects to supply their growing population with clean electricity. Because of this growth, the global market for nuclear power technology will total $740 billion over the next 10 years, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. But the U.S., which boasts advanced technology and the most stringent and effective nuclear safety regulations, is increasingly stymied in those markets.

Nuclear energy exports advance our national interests, but other countries are playing an active role in squeezing out U.S. competition. Russia, for example, is expanding its nuclear energy projects across Eastern Europe, and recently announced a partnership with Egypt to build that nation's first nuclear power plant — a partnership that has alarmed U.S. national security officials given the fact that Russia's Lukoil already produces more than one-sixth of Egypt's energy, giving them a significant foothold in the Middle East.

If there is anything we've learned about the global economy, it is that competition works. By supporting U.S. nuclear energy exports and providing essential export credit tools, Congress and the administration can ensure national security in the vital areas of nonproliferation, diplomacy and the environment. Exporting American nuclear technology and expertise will also strengthen the U.S. role in setting international industry standards for nuclear power safety and security.

The United States has been at the forefront of nuclear energy for nearly 70 years and the benefits it has provided to our health, the environment and national security are countless. To address the leading issues of our time — from climate change and energy diversity to nonproliferation and economic security — Congress and the administration must do all they can to maintain and grow our nuclear energy capabilities.

Whitman is a former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and is co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, a national organization working to advance the national dialogue about energy options and the value of nuclear energy.


  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.