February 20, 2011
By: by Chris Gibson, Times Union
With high energy costs, dependence on foreign oil and a sacred environment that weighs in the balance, it's time for a new vision and a new direction for this country's energy policy. It is far beyond time that we implement an "all of the above" energy policy.
Our country has been talking about this since the Nixon administration, but with little progress. That must end. I am forming a bipartisan energy advisory panel to help promote the comprehensive implementation of wind, solar, hydropower and other renewable energy sources, responsible natural gas and oil exploration, and the significant expansion of nuclear power.
The United States consumes approximately 21 percent of the energy in the world, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. As our economy begins to grow again, we will need a significant amount of new energy. Increased supply also means a lower price -- adding to the bottom-line for consumers and businesses.
Nuclear energy provides about 20 percent of electricity generation in the United States, the federal agency reports, with 104 operating reactors around the country. In New York, six reactors provide more than 30 percent of our electricity.
Our state has the potential to be at the forefront of nuclear power expansion. To be clear, however, my intent will never be to force a nuclear plant on a community that doesn't want one.
A 21st century nuclear power plant is a clean, safe and affordable domestic source of power with the scale to meet the bulk of our demand while providing well-paying jobs.
With one new reactor powering hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses, nuclear power is also the best way to decrease our reliance on coal.
Coal still creates about 45 percent of our nation's electricity, according to federal figures. For too long, it has contributed to the acid rain that destroys life in the Adirondack lakes. In some regions, improved coal technologies make sense; for us, nuclear power and renewables can address our need for clean energy.
Nuclear energy provies 70 percent of U.S. emissions-free energy with life-cycle emissions comparable to renewables like wind and hydropower -- at a lower cost to consumers, the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry group, reports.
According to the institute, it would take a wind farm the size of West Virginia or a solar photovoltaic installation the size of New Jersey to match the annual electricity production of U.S. commercial nuclear reactors.
If we are serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions without crippling our economy, nuclear energy will be a significant dimension of our energy plan -- a fact President Barack Obama highlighted in his State of the Union addresses.
Some are concerned about safety. So am I. But, let's review the historical record: For more than 30 years, U.S. nuclear plants have delivered electricity with no major incidents. The Navy, with its unique joint civilian oversight, has operated its reactors safely worldwide, including training reactor operators in Saratoga County.
The Nuclear Energy Institute calculates that the nuclear waste generated from 50 years of commercial operation fills only one football field, 10 feet deep -- and is being stored safely on site until a long-term repository is constructed or reprocessing is perfected. With the University at Albany College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, our region is perfectly positioned to design and build state-of-the art facilities.
Finally -- jobs. Nuclear energy means well-paying jobs, with each reactor requiring 400 to 700 workers, and up to 1,800 construction jobs, according to the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition. The average starting salary at a nuclear plant is $65,000. Each reactor contributes an average of $430 million a year in economic output for its communities in salaries, materials and taxes -- dollars we could use right now.
Nuclear power holds the key to an energy future that is safe, clean, reliable, and affordable. We have the educated work force to lead the way for the United States and the world. We have the resources for an "all of the above" solution to our energy needs. We should get started now.