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This One Simple Question Will Shape the Future of Energy

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Maria Korsnick

CEO and president of the Nuclear Energy Institute

We are faced with a serious question: How do we meet America’s demand for electricity while also making the right choices to protect our planet?

The leading scientists on climate, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, say we must take immediate action to protect the climate, or else feel the worst effects of global warming by 2030. These experts also say nuclear carbon-free energy can play a critical role in a clean energy future.

The nuclear option

Faced with this climate challenge, the energy sector is turning toward carbon-free sources like renewables, nuclear power, and carbon-capture technologies. America’s 97 nuclear reactors provide nearly 20 percent of the nation’s electricity without carbon emissions. In fact, nuclear is the largest source of emissions-free energy in the country, generating 55 percent of the nation’s clean power.

Nuclear is an abundant, affordable, and clean energy resource that’s online 24/7/365, making it a perfect pairing with renewables. Its carbon-free electricity combined with wind and solar generates almost 80 percent of the clean energy on today’s electrical grid. With smart, modernized regulations and policies that equally value carbon-free technologies, that clean energy portfolio could continue to grow.  

A future threat

However, that clean energy future is in danger. Flawed electricity markets threaten the future of existing nuclear plants and the carbon-free electricity generation they produce. We are moving backward if we continue to see nuclear plants shuttered prematurely. 

Failing to protect the existing nuclear fleet means we are, at best, replacing carbon-free nuclear with a different carbon-free source, but what actually happens is that fossil fuels replace carbon-free nuclear generation. This makes the clean energy goals we must reach by 2030 nearly impossible.

Making a change

There is good news. More and more states are recognizing that in order to reduce carbon, they need to protect and open pathways for all zero-emission energy sources like nuclear, wind, and solar. 

I’m proud to be a nuclear engineer and to represent our nation’s nuclear energy industry. Nuclear power combats the dangerous effects of climate change. We protect the planet by generating electricity without pollution and nuclear energy serves as a cornerstone of our national security. We are the economic engines for the communities we serve, employing directly and indirectly nearly half a million people across the country. 

The future of nuclear is innovation. Tech leaders like Bill Gates and Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal, have championed nuclear energy, along with lawmakers across the political spectrum who have supported legislation to advance new nuclear technology. 

With dozens of new companies working on the next generation of nuclear plant designs, we’re creating a whole suite of options that will help us partner with renewables. Entrepreneurs are creating and piloting small, medium, and large solutions to meet the different and evolving energy needs of communities at home and abroad. 

This isn’t in the distant future. Just over a year from now, we will have a small, modular nuclear reactor one step closer to deployment with an approved design certification. Our future may include funding from the Pentagon for pilot projects of very small “micro” reactors across the country. Other innovative designs of all sizes are close behind.

Soon Georgia will bring online the first new nuclear reactors to be built in the United States in more than 30 years. Plant Vogtle will be our nation’s only four-unit nuclear facility, producing enough carbon-free electricity to power more than 2 million homes per year.

If we are serious about addressing climate change, then the future of energy must be clean. With carbon-free electricity sources like nuclear, we can power our way of life, reduce emissions, and save the planet.

Maria Korsnick, CEO and president of the Nuclear Energy Institute, [email protected]

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