Top 10 reasons nuclear power will be the key to America's energy future

The prevailing “wisdom” on America’s energy future is leading us down the wrong path. Renewable electricity sounds good, but with current technology, it means higher energy prices and less-reliable electricity. America invented the best answer to our energy needs: nuclear power. Here are ten reasons why nuclear is the key to America’s clean, reliable, low-cost energy future:

1. Zero Emissions: Nuclear power produces 20 percent of America’s electricity and 70 percent of our carbon-free electricity today. In contrast, wind and solar power provide only 2 percent of our electricity and only 6 percent of our carbon-free electricity. Nuclear also produces none of the air pollution that comes from burning fossil fuels. 

2. Reliable: America’s nuclear reactors operate 90 percent of the time, making nuclear our most reliable source of electricity. Renewable energy is intermittent, with power available only when the wind blows or the sun shines — about a third of the time. It’s hard to imagine a strong economy that can run its computers, factories and air conditioning only one-third of the time.

3. Low cost: The National Academy of Sciences says nuclear can produce electricity at or below the cost of wind, solar or coal with carbon capture. Renewable sources seem cheap only because they are subsidized with billions in government money and because they have not yet been built to scale. At current rates, taxpayers would have to shell out $170 billion to subsidize the 186,000 wind turbines necessary to equal the output of 100 reactors. 

4. Land Conservation: Renewable sources create what the Nature Conservancy is calling “energy sprawl.” They consume staggering amounts of land. An unbroken line of 50-story wind turbines along the 2,178-mile Appalachian Trail would produce no more electricity than four nuclear reactors on four square miles.

5. Fewer new transmission lines: Nuclear power’s tremendous energy density not only produces a small footprint but means reactors can be located where they are needed. And new small modular reactors being developed today could easily power the electricity needs of a small town. Producing 20 percent of America’s electricity from wind would require 19,000 miles of new transmission lines through backyards and scenic landscapes.

6. Jobs: Much has been made of “green jobs” created by renewable energy, yet, according to an American University study, 80 percent of the $2 billion in renewable subsidies from the “stimulus” package went to overseas manufacturers. More red, white and blue jobs will be created by low-cost, reliable nuclear power than by high-cost, intermittent power from renewables.

7. Reducing nuclear arms: In 1996, America pioneered a remarkable deal with the post-
Soviet government to buy uranium from old Soviet bomb stocks. For the last two decades, old Soviet weapons material has supplied half our nuclear fuel. As a result, one in 10 light bulbs in America is now powered by a former Soviet weapon.

8. International competitiveness: France gets 80 percent of its electricity from nuclear and has among the lowest electricity rates and carbon emissions in Western Europe. Russia is using nuclear to replace natural gas, which it can sell to Europe at six times the price. There are 55 reactors under construction around the world — none in the United States. Are we the only country that doesn’t recognize the value of low-cost, reliable energy?

9. Safety: While we have recently experienced a coal mine tragedy, a devastating oil spill and the deadly explosion of a natural-gas pipeline, there has never been a death from a nuclear accident at an American commercial reactor. There has never been a nuclear-related death aboard an American nuclear Navy vessel, either. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration reports that working in the nuclear industry is safer than working in the finance, insurance and real estate sectors. 

10. Public Support: According to a Gallup poll in March 2010, 62 percent of Americans favor nuclear power — an all-time high. In communities that already have reactors, support runs even higher.

Low-cost, reliable and clean nuclear power is essential to build a stronger economy, create jobs, and increase our nation’s competitiveness. Without nuclear power I fear Americans will wake up one cloudy, windless day to discover the lights don’t work and we’ve sent millions of jobs overseas looking for cheap electricity because we ignored the best technology to power the 21st century — nuclear power.

Sen. Alexander is a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee.