Monday, May 11, 2015

What Nuclear Plenitude Means Economically


Nuclear energy plants are financial boons in all kinds of ways – both directly, in terms of the people they hire and their contribution to the tax base; and indirectly, through their support of the supply chain and all the businesses that benefit from having a nuclear energy plant in their midst. That’s obvious enough and true of almost any large physical plant.
There’s another economic consideration, too, that one nuclear reactor can produce a lot of new electricity. Sometimes, a new reactor will take the place of an older electricity generator – a coal plant here, a gas works there – but sometimes, more is just more.
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.
Op-ed writer Mel Bruckner points out in The State newspaper that nuclear energy supplies over 96 percent of South Carolina’s emission-free electricity (about 50 percent of the state’s total electricity).
Bruckner leaves this point behind as soon as he makes it, but it’s an important one, well-recognized and leveraged by state government to attract business. Here’s a member of the South Carolina’s House delegation making the same point in 2012, soon before construction got underway on two new reactors at SCANA’s Summer facility:
Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) recognized the project’s economic implications. “Investing in nuclear energy will allow South Carolina’s power grid to expand and attract new business ventures in the state,” he said. “More nuclear power in the state means that businesses can grow and focus on putting South Carolinians back to work.”
This point can get a little tucked away. It probably doesn’t matter much to BMW or Bridgestone where the volts are coming from as long as their factories start up every day. A few entities – those running large data farms, for example – want to run their operations on renewable energy sources because it better fits their (perhaps somewhat uninformed) corporate profiles. Yet they happily locate some of their outlets in places with a lot of nuclear energy-produced electricity such as Georgia and the Carolinas. On the one hand, hrrumph, on the other hand, fine: it keeps the economic wheel spinning – new jobs, a  better tax base, and direct and indirect support of businesses.

I’m not sure we could call nuclear energy the best at engendering economic development, whatever best may mean. But it is good at it and in a time of economic revival, extremely valuable. It’s great that Bruckner picked up this theme in a state with two new reactors pending. It does not seem a key bullet point in a typical discussion of nuclear benefits; but in the ways that matter most to people, it’s the key that turns the economic lock.

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