Buckner: Nuclear is key to fighting climate change

November 8, 2013 


— The Southeastern is leading the battle against global warming. Our electric utilities have embraced nuclear power as part of their portfolio approach to climate change, with construction underway of five large nuclear plants using advanced technology: V.C. Summer 2 and 3 in South Carolina, Vogtle 3 and 4 in Georgia and Watts Bar 2 in Tennessee.

Contrast that with decisions this year to close four nuclear plants in Vermont, California and Wisconsin, which means that each year another 10 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels will be emitted into the atmosphere.

At a time when the United States needs to rally all nations to work together to prevent the worst effects of climate change, environmental groups are working overtime to block any progress on the most environmentally attractive and virtually inexhaustible energy resource — nuclear power.

Nuclear power’s environmental record is impressive. In 2012 the U.S. fleet of nuclear plants reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 570 million metric tons, accounting for nearly two-thirds of the nation’s emission-free energy. Yet when utilities make power-supply decisions, nuclear power comes under attack from those who think renewable-energy resources and conservation alone can meet our needs. Despite state mandates and government subsidies for renewable energy, solar and wind power combined meet only 2 percent of the nation’s energy demand. Because they are intermittent, they require natural gas turbines as back-up.

Approximately 20 percent of all U.S. greenhouse emissions are attributable to natural gas. So whatever gains are made by switching from coal to lower-carbon gas will be nullified in the future as gas use continues to grow.

True, large amounts of used-nuclear fuel remain from the production of nuclear power. But the waste problem is political, not technological. France and other countries recycle their used fuel for use again in reactors. We should do the same in the United States.

The Southeast’s foresight will pay rich dividends in more jobs from nuclear plant construction and the sale of reactor components to other countries, cleaner air and an expanding economy based on clean nuclear energy.

Mel Buckner

North Augusta

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