Opinion Extra

Buckner: Nuclear energy will drive economic growth in South Carolina

The V.C. Summer Nuclear Station
The V.C. Summer Nuclear Station The State

South Carolina’s investment in nuclear power is paying off in larger ways than expected, especially in view of looming energy shortages in some other states.

With the construction of base-load nuclear plants at the Summer Nuclear Station, South Carolina will have ample electric capacity to attract more companies like Bridgestone and BMW while also protecting the environment. This combination will put South Carolina in the driver’s seat for an expanding economy in the years ahead.

South Carolina’s seven operating reactors generate more than 50 percent of the state’s electricity, safely and reliably. Nuclear power delivers 96 percent of South Carolina’s low-carbon energy.

Nationally, each reactor employs between 400 and 700 highly skilled workers, has a payroll of about $40 million and contributes $470 million to the local economy, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute.

Fortunately, South Carolina hasn’t made the same mistake as New England. A decade ago, there were warnings that new power plants were needed to keep New England’s economy going. But political and regulatory roadblocks prevented any new nuclear plants from being built, and last year the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant and a large coal plant in Massachusetts were shut down prematurely. Now, electricity costs are rising sharply, and the region faces the prospect of electricity shortages that could severely damage its economy. Already, New England is paying the huge costs of neglect, in the loss of jobs from companies moving to other parts of the country where electric-power reliability is not a problem.

The value of nuclear-generated electricity will only build in the years ahead. Three factors will come into play.

First is energy reliability. South Carolina has a huge advantage in obtaining electricity from a mix of energy sources — nuclear, natural gas, solar and other renewables.

Then there is the need for low-carbon power. If the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed carbon rule for electricity generation is adopted, South Carolina must reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 51.4 percent by 2030. As long as emission-free nuclear plants get full credit for their environmental benefits, we will be able to reach that target.

Finally, nuclear power’s base-load energy will be needed to undergird the electricity grid. Without it, there would be a risk of grid instability.

South Carolina’s foresight in investing in nuclear power will pay rich dividends in more jobs, economic security and cleaner air as the new nuclear plants begin operation.

Mel Buckner

North Augusta