Nuclear energy plays an essential role in securing our country’s clean energy future. That’s because the generation of electricity from nuclear plants emits no carbon dioxide or air pollution and is the country’s largest source of clean energy.
Reducing nuclear power’s role in our energy portfolio could have devastating environmental impacts on our country and make it nearly impossible for us to meet our clean energy or carbon reduction goals. Nuclear energy produces more carbon-free electricity than all other sources combined and is the only carbon-free energy source that can produce large amounts of electricity around the clock, 365 days a year. With the average reactor operating at 92 percent capacity – far higher than any other electricity resource – nuclear energy’s ability to provide massive amounts of reliable clean power is unparalleled, accounting for about half of America’s clean energy generation in 2021.
The carbon-free benefits of nuclear are immense. Every year, nuclear-generated electricity saves our atmosphere from 476 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions that would otherwise likely come from fossil fuels. 476 million metric tons is the equivalent of taking more than 103 million passenger vehicles off the road, which is almost as many passenger vehicles as are currently on the road in the United States. Additionally, the energy provided by nuclear power avoids nearly 220,000 short tons of nitrogen oxide and more than 260,000 short tons of sulfur dioxide emissions each year. In 2021, the combined social cost of these emissions was valued at more than $31 billion.
Of course, electricity generation represents less than 30 percent of U.S. carbon emissions. Decarbonizing our energy system means we must focus on the energy used to power transportation, agriculture, industrial uses and more. Advanced nuclear technology can help decarbonize energy uses that can’t readily be served using wind and solar power. For example, fossil fuels are currently the only energy source capable of reaching high enough temperatures to power much of the industrial sector, which accounts for 24% of greenhouse gas emissions each year. While renewable energy sources and current nuclear reactors cannot reach temperatures needed for industrial furnaces, several advanced reactor types have the potential to replace fossil fuels for this and other purposes. Moreover, promising developments like small modular reactors (SMRs) offer the opportunity for community-based approaches to scalable energy generation. The result – nuclear carbon-free energy powering local homes and businesses.
We have seen attempts to phase out nuclear energy create devastating environmental impacts internationally and throughout the U.S. In Germany, the phase-out of nuclear plants is estimated to have caused a 25-million-ton increase in carbon emissions. In the U.S., states that have closed nuclear plants have seen significant increases in carbon emissions as well. In California, closing the San Onofre plant in 2012 contributed to a 35 percent increase in carbon emissions, and Vermont witnessed a 650,000 ton increase in just the two months following the closure of the Vermont Yankee plant.
The detrimental impact of phasing out nuclear energy is clear. In the fight against the climate crisis, supporting nuclear plants and investing in advanced nuclear technology could make all the difference.
That’s why we need your help encouraging our leaders to implement pro-nuclear power policies. In less than a minute, you can send a pre-drafted email to all your legislators, sharing the benefits of this always-on energy source responsible for more than half of our country's clean energy. Can we count on you?