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On Eve of Presidential Debate, Nuclear Energy is One Area of Agreement

Matt Wald
The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior director of policy analysis and strategic planning at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

We’ve said it often: nuclear power is a foundation of a reliable power grid, holds down carbon emissions and is a staple of local economies. But it’s nice to hear it from others as well, and earlier this month, all those points were made by the Washington State Democratic Central Committee.

The committee passed a resolution calling for continued operation of the Columbia Generating Station, a publicly-owned reactor that since 1984 has been churning out 1,190 megawatts of power, enough to meet the needs of about a million households, and about 8.2 percent of the electricity generated in the state in 2014.

The reactor’s output is “continuously available regardless of weather conditions,” the resolution pointed out, and can help back up the rising levels of intermittent solar and wind power. Shutting it would mean the loss of 1,500 jobs directly, and three times that number in indirect jobs, and would double the state’s output of carbon dioxide from natural gas, the resolution said.

Gov. Walker signs bill ending Wisconsin's moratorium.
The Washington State Democrats are not alone in realizing the value of nuclear power. In February, Wisconsin ended a 33 year moratorium on construction of new nuclear plants. That moratorium was initiated over concern about what to do with used fuel, but Wisconsin, and the Democrats in Washington State, concluded that the problem is not urgent, because the fuel can be successfully stored for many decades in steel-and-concrete casks. The casks keep the fuel dry, and are cooled by the natural circulation of air.

In New York State, Governor Andrew Cuomo said when he called for the establishment of a clean energy standard that “maintaining zero-emission nuclear power is a critical element to achieving New York’s ambitious climate goals.’’

The NY Clean Energy Standard: it all adds up.
The governor acted to protect nuclear plants that were threatened by financial problems brought on by flaws in the electricity market. He said, “A growing number of climate scientists have warned that if these nuclear plants were to abruptly close, carbon emissions in New York will increase by more than 31 million metric tons during the next two years, resulting in public health and other societal costs of at least $1.4 billion.’’

Nationally, in a presidential campaign in which the candidates do not agree on much, they both like nuclear power. Scientific American magazine recently asked Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump various questions about energy and environment, and published their answers.

Mrs. Clinton said, “Meeting the climate challenge is too important to limit the tools available in this fight. Nuclear power—which accounts for more than 60 percent of our zero carbon power generation today—is one of those tools. I will work to ensure that the climate benefits of our existing nuclear power plants that are safe to operate are appropriately valued and increase investment in the research, development and deployment of advanced nuclear power.’’

Mr. Trump is not a believer in human-caused climate change, but he likes nuclear too. He said, “Nuclear power is a valuable source of energy and should be part of an all-the-above program for providing power for America long into the future. We can make nuclear power safer, and its outputs are extraordinary given the investment we should make. Nuclear power must be an integral part of energy independence for America.’’

With the first in a series of debates in the Presidential campaign just hours away, it’s nice to think that not every issue divides the nation so deeply.

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