Nuclear power is the safest, most cost-effective, most environmentally friendly electricity source. It is the energy of the future. Nuclear plants are the lowest-cost producer of baseload electricity. The average production cost of 2.19 cents per kilowatt-hour includes the costs of operating and maintaining the plant, purchasing fuel and paying for the management of used fuel. In the United States, nuclear power provides almost 20 percent of the electricity we consume through the 104 reactors in 31 states.
But we can't stop there. The Department of Energy forecasts the U.S. will need 22 percent more electricity by 2035. The only way to efficiently meet that demand is by ensuring nuclear energy plays a vital role in our energy strategy. And thanks to the two new reactors being built at Plant Vogtle, Georgia is leading the way to a cost-effective, emission-free energy future. In Georgia, nuclear power constitutes almost 25 percent of electricity generated and 90 percent of Georgia's emission-free power. That number is expected to grow once the two new reactors at Plant Vogtle are completed and come online. Upon completion, the plants will provide enough electricity to serve 1.6 million homes annually. (CITE PDF) Georgia Power expects Unit 3 to begin operating in 2016 and Unit 4 in 2017.
Nuclear power isn't just an efficient and emission-free energy source. It's also a job creator. On average, a nuclear power plant creates 1,400-1,800 high-paying jobs during construction and creates 400-700 jobs for operation of the plant. At Plant Vogtle, Southern Company estimates as many as 5,000 jobs will be created during peak construction time and believes as many as 25,000 direct and indirect jobs could be impacted by the new reactors. Once the two new reactors are completed, they estimate 800 permanent jobs will be created, doubling the number of workers at Vogtle.
Unfortunately, there are those who continue to fight the expansion of nuclear power, including President Obama. Many opponents of this emissions-free energy source claim safety is their biggest concern. However, the safety record of nuclear power is good when compared with many other energy technologies. In fact, nuclear power has caused far fewer accidental deaths per unit of energy generated than other major forms of power generation. When you combine the total number of nuclear reactors ever used and the number of years they have functioned, you come up with approximately 14,500 cumulative reactor-years of commercial nuclear power. And in that time, there have been only three major accidents. The only one to occur in the United States, Three Mile Island, was contained without harm to anyone. The most harmful of these accidents, Chernobyl, could never happen here in the United States. Take this statement from a New York Times op-ed from 1987 by the co-chairmen of the Select Panel for Post-Chernobyl Safety Review,
"Western-type reactors are so totally different from the Soviet RBMK reactor -- in principal design, construction and operation -- that a Chernobyl-type accident is simply not possible at Indian Point or any other US nuclear power plant. This conclusion has been reaffirmed by a variety of institutions, including the International Atomic Energy Agency."
And that was 25 years ago. Technology has come a long way since then, which International Atomic Energy Agency Deputy Director Tomihiro Taniguchi confirmed when he said, "Very significant changes have been made in the technology. The IAEA is firmly committed that such an accident not happen again." So not only do we not need to worry about Chernobyl-type accidents happening in the US, technology has come so far that it would be highly unlikely for anything similar to happen outside of the Western World.
The Department of Energy has stated the best way for utility companies to reduce carbon emissions is to increase their supply of nuclear energy. If President Obama is truly in favor of adopting an all-of-the-above energy plan, like he stated in this year's State of the Union address, then he must support expanding nuclear power. As our population grows and the demand for electricity increases, we need to find a way to provide electricity in a way that is affordable. The answer to this question is simple: nuclear power.
Next week I will talk about alternative energy sources, such as wind, solar and biofuels. We have seen a recent uptick in their use, but are still a ways away from having these energy sources completely replace traditional forms of energy like coal and natural gas. However, they should absolutely play a role in our all-of-the-above energy plan. I encourage you to visit my website each week to check out the latest edition of Power the Nation.