By Judd Gregg
Voters in Arizona, Illinois and Florida have something in common – they live in states where nuclear energy is the largest producer of carbon-free energy. Combined, these three states’ nuclear energy capacity accounts for 10 percent of the country’s clean energy supply. Yet, the future of nuclear carbon-free energy in these states – and across the country – remains unclear.
Stop to consider how much nuclear energy means to our country. It provides 20 percent of our total electricity supply and generates over 55 percent of our carbon-free power. Nuclear energy accounts for 800 billion kilowatt hours per year in the U.S. — enough to generate electricity to power Mexico, Italy, and Australia – combined.
This crucial source of carbon-free power is vital to the stability of the American economy and the reliability of the national grid. Nuclear energy provides hard-working Americans with 475,000 jobs, many of which pay above-average wages and salaries. It provides millions of dollars in state and local taxes that are the lifeblood of small communities.
And perhaps most importantly, nuclear carbon-free energy is the bedrock of any serious solution to combat climate change. When nuclear plants shutter, they’re most often replaced by polluting energy sources, which have significant impacts on the environment and public health.
Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed the negative consequences of prematurely closing nuclear plants. When the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant closed in 2014, the entire New England region felt the impact. Hundreds of jobs were lost, small businesses reported reduced revenues of as much as 20 percent, and three states dependent on electricity from the plant lost $330 million in savings.
What’s more, carbon dioxide emissions spiked significantly when Vermont Yankee’s reliable, carbon-free power generation was replaced by fossil fuels. According to a 2016 report from the Institute for Energy Research, Vermont Yankee’s closure caused New England to emit an additional 2 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2015 alone. We cannot afford to take such big steps backward in the fight against climate change.
None of the states voting in the March 17 primary can afford to, either. Eleven nuclear facilities generate over half of Illinois’ electricity. To provide the amount of carbon-free electricity produced by a single nuclear facility, Florida would have to build a solar farm the size of Daytona Beach. And in Arizona, nuclear energy avoided 20.89 million metric tons of CO2 emissions in 2018. The numbers speak for themselves: we need nuclear energy to build America’s clean energy future.
Here’s the good news: we have the power to protect this vital source of carbon-free energy. As the former Governor and United States Senator of New Hampshire, I know firsthand just how powerfully the ballot box speaks to our elected representatives. When we come together to take bold action and demand accountability, those running for office listen.
Whether or not your state’s primary is on March 17, we all have an opportunity to send politicians an important message this electoral year: there is no credible 21st century energy plan without nuclear carbon-free energy.
Judd Gregg is a former Senator and Governor of New Hampshire. He is also a member of the Nuclear Matters Advocacy Council.