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Tampa Bay Online & The Tampa Tribune

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Published: June 27, 2008

The 2008 presidential campaign has brought to the mainstream a phrase that environmentalists have invoked for years: “green-collar jobs.”

The idea of industries devoted to environmental sustainability promises something for everyone – economic growth and a cleaner world.

Today, Florida, along with many other states, is competing to build “green collar” industries – solar, wind, biomass, and the like. All of these industries offer something in terms of job growth and environmental responsibility. They are all an essential part of our energy mix going forward.

Without exception, though, it’s hard to compete with the one-two punch of nuclear energy – near-term economic growth and long-term environmental sustainability.

Problem is, several decades of hazy facts about nuclear energy have made it difficult to have a frank conversation about its benefits.

In the early 1970s, I was a founder of Greenpeace. Back then, like many other environmentalists, I believed that nuclear energy was synonymous with the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

We were wrong; our fears were misplaced. Today, we see that the greatest threat to the earth is not the chill of nuclear winter; it’s our addiction to fossil fuels and the air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions they cause. If we are to seriously attack this problem, we have to come up with innovative and reliable ways to meet our energy needs.

Most solutions to our fossil fuel problem involve cutting into economic growth. But that is not a viable approach, especially with our economy already facing enormous challenges.

Nuclear energy can help solve both our long-term environmental challenges as a nation and the near-term economic needs of Florida’s families.

If the country builds the approximately 35 new nuclear power plants currently planned or under review, we could add up to 600,000 jobs to our nation’s economy, according to a report issued earlier this month by the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition.

Each of the 104 reactors operating today generates an estimated $430 million a year in total economic impact for their local communities, and nearly $40 million in total labor income.

Florida has seen the benefits of nuclear energy up close.

Fourteen percent of the electricity that Floridians use every day comes from five nuclear reactors, which emit no controlled pollutants and employ about 3,000 workers combined.

Thanks to the energy produced cleanly at those plants, Florida avoided the emission of 39,000 tons of nitrogen oxides in 2006 alone – equal to taking 2 million passenger cars off Florida highways for a full year.

Yet Florida could still do better; it ranked third among states for highest carbon emissions in 2007.

Now is the time to take action. It takes eight to 10 years to get new plants licensed and built. Opponents of nuclear energy know this, and play on it. But delays to nuclear plant construction represent a tax on Florida’s consumers, a tax on Florida’s workers, and a tax on Florida’s environment.

We have to start building new plants now, and we can start with the four plants being proposed in the state by Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy. We should also add capacity to Florida’s existing nuclear plants, a move that could produce eight percent more electricity and avoid thousands of more tons of harmful emissions.

Thirty years ago, I was convinced that the nation could live without nuclear energy. Now, the science has convinced me that the nation can’t live without it. That’s true because of what nuclear energy can do for our environment, and it’s especially true because of what nuclear energy can do for our economy.

Patrick Moore is co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, a national organization with many members in Florida.

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