Recent extreme storms that ravaged parts of Texas, Florida, and U.S. Territories in the Caribbean have again raised awareness of the connection between climate change and carbon pollution and how they exacerbate these extreme weather events. Which is why news out of Georgia is welcomed by Americans concerned about climate change.
The recent announcement that Georgia Power is proposing to continue construction on its two new nuclear reactors at the Plant Vogtle facility near Augusta, Georgia is positive news for both the state, where nuclear plants provide 93 percent of the state’s carbon-free electricity, as well as for our country, where nuclear plants are a critical part of our carbon-free power production.
Reducing carbon pollution is important, because the impacts of climate change are felt across the country. This year alone we’ve seen record forest fires, record rainfalls and what used to be “once a century” storms seemingly turning into once a week storms. As a former Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, it has been my life’s work to protect our planet from dirty air, dirty water, and the harmful effects of climate change. There has never been a more important time to protect carbon-free power sources, such as nuclear and renewables like wind and solar.
The bottom line is that if we are truly concerned about climate change and the carbon pollution that is contributing to it, then we need to support all forms of carbon-free energy sources. If we are working to build a clean energy future, we need to use every tool in our toolbox. Taking even one existing nuclear facility offline, or preventing a currently under-construction plant from moving forward, would inevitably lead to increased carbon pollution from fossil fuel sources of energy, exacerbating the impacts of climate change and endangering our health and safety.
Once Plant Vogtle Units 3 & 4 are completed, they are expected to provide Georgia with carbon-free, low-cost energy for 60 to 80 years to come. And the benefits of nuclear are not just felt in Georgia. Nuclear power provides communities across the country with 20 percent of their energy needs and accounts for 63 percent of our carbon-free power. In 2016 alone, nuclear prevented 554 metric tons of carbon pollution from entering the atmosphere. That’s equivalent to the emissions of nearly 135 million cars. Just as importantly, this carbon-free, reliable source of energy runs around the clock. This means that nuclear generated power is ready and waiting to provide your home with electricity every time you flip your light switch.
Nuclear plants also have other benefits aside from being carbon-free. They are major employers. There are more than 6,000 workers helping build the new Vogtle units today, and once they are up and fully operational, Vogtle 3 & 4 will create more than 800 permanent jobs.
The recommendation to regulators in Georgia to continue Vogtle’s construction should be commended. It represents progress in reaffirming the importance of our nuclear fleet in the United States. It is also a good moment for reflection for policymakers, businesses, and private citizens alike. How can we support investments in cleaner energy sources? And do the policies we have in place properly value the benefits they deliver? For example, the Obama Administration recognized the value of these carbon free sources of energy when it provided a loan guarantee for Vogtle in 2010, and the Trump Administration recently offered additional loan guarantees for construction of the plant.
We need to figure out the answers to these questions, and soon. The future of our country – and our health and safety – depends on it. There has never been a more important time for carbon-free power sources, like nuclear energy. With more deadly and devastating storms impacting our communities, the time to act is now.
Carol Browner is former Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and former Director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy. She is a member of the Leadership Council of Nuclear Matters, a campaign designed to engage and inform policymakers and the public about the need to preserve existing nuclear energy plants.