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Benefits of nuclear energy: A changing climate around nuclear energy

benefits of nuclear energy

A changing climate around nuclear energy

Opinion Editorial: Patrick Moore
October 12, 2009
Statesman Journal

A new, bipartisan consensus is building around the environmental benefits of nuclear energy in America.

Just a few weeks ago, in a meadow in Rocky Mountain National Park, Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado joined Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona in concluding that nuclear energy “has to be part of the solution” as the country seeks to reduce its carbon footprint and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The debate about nuclear energy in Oregon, and across much of America, has been a highly emotional, often partisan affair. This new alliance is a breath of fresh air, representing a fundamental shift in political alignment. Fifty-nine percent of Americans polled by Gallup earlier this year said they support nuclear energy as one way to meet the nation’s electricity needs.

For more than a decade, Oregon has chosen to remain on the sidelines of the issue. Now may be the right time for this state to consider putting nuclear energy back to work on behalf of clean air and economic growth.

I understand Oregon’s reservations. I once had them, too. But after four decades as an active environmentalist, studying the facts, my views have evolved — and I’m not alone.

Several leaders and groups within the environmental movement now recognize that the nuclear energy industry has a stellar safety record and can meet the nation’s rising electricity demand with virtually emissions-free energy. Nuclear energy is one of the best clean energy options to deliver the power we need without producing air pollution and greenhouse gases.

Along with hydroelectric power, nuclear energy is the only non-emitting baseload energy source operating around the clock, providing one-fifth of the energy powering U.S. homes and businesses. And nuclear energy already produces 72 percent of all carbon-free electricity in the country.

Just to the south, California’s four nuclear reactors prevent millions of tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere, emissions that would otherwise be generated by natural gas power plants or out of state coal generating facilities.

According to recent polls, for the first time in three decades a majority of Californians support nuclear energy. And earlier this month, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., announced the Senate’s climate change legislation will include support for nuclear energy.

Like Oregon, California has set aggressive targets for emissions reductions over the coming decades, and nuclear energy can go a long way to help meet them. Others, including Florida and Ohio, have formally recognized this by introducing legislation allowing nuclear energy to be included in a range of technologies to meet clean or alternative energy standards.

Nuclear energy’s growing appeal is also based on economics. In Oregon, where the jobless rate has nearly doubled in the past 12 months, the thousands of construction jobs that a new nuclear reactor brings would be welcome. And the 400-700 high-paying permanent positions added to operate each plant would bring opportunity to workers who deserve a chance to build a stable career in their communities.

Oregon State continues to be a leader in the development of advanced nuclear energy plant designs. Researchers there helped develop many of the new safety systems that have been incorporated in the designs of the 25 new reactors in the federal government permitting process. And it is working on a five-year, $6 million grant to help engineer future reactors.

Taken together, it’s no wonder that political leaders of all stripes, business advocates and an increasing number of environmentalists are looking at nuclear energy as a source for economic growth, energy security and cleaner air. It’s no longer a question of whether, but when Oregon should be part the discussion on how to deploy nuclear energy.

Dr. Patrick Moore, co-founder and former leader of Greenpeace, co-chairs the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition (CASEnergy) a grassroots coalition which promotes the economic and environmental benefits of nuclear power as part of a green energy economy.

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