By Dr. Patrick Moore, Co-Chair, Clean and Safe Energy Coalition
As one of the founders of Greenpeace, I was once opposed to nuclear energy. In the early years, we were so focused on the threat of nuclear war; we made the mistake of lumping nuclear energy in with nuclear weapons as if all things nuclear were evil. We were wrong.
The possible consequences of climate change and certainty of high energy prices don’t allow us the luxury of emotion. We must be practical. If we truly want to provide safe and affordable energy that doesn’t emit greenhouse gases (GHG) and still helps us meet a rising demand, it would be irresponsible not to consider nuclear energy for our global energy mix.
In the United States, electricity demand is forecast to increase 25 percent by 2030. Demand in other nations is growing at an even faster rate and some two billion people in the world still lack access to electricity for essential services.
Consumption may increase five-fold. Conservation and efficiency may make it possible to reduce demand growth with technologies like smart metering and energy efficient appliances, but they won’t eliminate overall demand growth. If we want to satisfy this growing demand without increasing air pollution and GHGs, nuclear energy is the only baseload, “always on” technology available.
As a lifelong activist, I am particularly concerned about the impact that our actions have on our planet and our health. I came around to nuclear power because it generates electricity we can rely on, while preventing the emission of pollutants like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter that lead to the formation of acid rain, smog and severe health effects. As the International Panel on Climate Change points outs, nuclear energy’s clean air benefits are also capable of reducing greenhouse gases.
The nuclear industry grew rapidly in the 1970s and 1980s as France, Japan and the United States built scores of reactors. France now has 59 nuclear reactors and derives more than 75 percent of its electricity from nuclear energy. But in the United States, lagging electricity demand, challenging politics, public misperception and project mismanagement have stalled new plants for nearly 30 years.
Today, safe and efficient industry performance and growing concern over climate change has brought nuclear energy back into public favor. Nuclear plants are generating electricity at record levels. In 2007, U.S. reactors produced 807 billion kilowatt hours of electricity1 or 20 percent of the nation’s electricity, while operating at nearly 92 percent capacity.
The World Nuclear Association predicts that more than 90 nuclear reactors will be built worldwide in the coming decades. In the United States, 17 companies and consortia plan to build roughly 30 new reactors. In this difficult economic climate, these projects will translate into tens of thousands of American jobs. As many as 4,000 workers will be needed per new reactor project at peak periods, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute. Additionally, new reactors will provide substantial boosts to suppliers of commodities like concrete and steel, and to manufacturers of nuclear plant components.
When new reactors are built, 400 to 700 new workers will be needed to operate and maintain each reactor.2 Using the projected total of 30 new reactors, 12,000 to 21,000 new jobs would be added to the U.S. market.
In addition to staffing new reactors, more job opportunities will be available due to retiring workers at nuclear facilities. Just as the American economy must adjust to retiring baby boomers, so too must the nuclear industry. Thirty-five percent of the current U.S. nuclear industry work force may be eligible to retire within five years. This means that between now and 2012, the industry will have opportunities for approximately 19,600 workers to replace retirees and 6,300 to account for other attrition.
As co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, I am working to inform people about the benefits of nuclear energy. As an environmentalist, I want to make people aware of a form of energy that to date has been overly politicized, because it can sustain future generations with clean power. As a scientist, I prefer to be on the side of clean, hard facts, as opposed to the misinformation and fear being spread by those who remain opposed to this important technology.
It is vital that we learn more about where our energy comes from and how we can influence decisions that will result in a cleaner and safer world for future generations. In my view there is simply no question that nuclear energy will play an important role in delivering that future.
1. U.S. EIA, Nuclear Power Generation
2. “Nuclear Power Plant Contributions To State and Local Economies,” NEI Fact Sheet, January 2008
Dr. Patrick Moore, a co-founder and former leader of Greenpeace, is the co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition. The CASEnergy Coalition is a grassroots coalition that unites unlikely allies across the business, environmental, academic, consumer and labor community to support nuclear energy.