Why We Need More Nuclear Power

February 22, 2010 at 7:26am

There has been a vigorous discussion here on Facebook since my last post about President Obama's announcement of a loan guarantee for what will become the first nuclear power plant to break ground in nearly three decades. I'd like to make a few points to continue the discussion.

Some of you expressed a preference for solar and wind power over nuclear energy. I share your enthusiasm for these renewable sources of energy, and, because of the success of the Recovery Act, we are on pace to double our renewable energy capacity by 2012.

But no single technology will provide all of the answers. Wind and solar now provide about 3 percent of our electricity, compared to 20 percent for nuclear. While we are working at hard as we can to promote energy efficiency in every part sector of America, it is likely that our energy demand will continue to rise. In fact, the Energy Information Administration projects an almost 20 percent increase in overall energy demand and over 30 percent increase in electricity demand over the next 25 years under current laws. If we want to make a serious dent in carbon dioxide emissions -- not to mention having cleaner air and cleaner water -- then nuclear power has to be on the table.

Also remember that wind and solar are intermittent energy sources. The sun isn't always shining, and the wind isn't always blowing. Without technological breakthroughs in efficient, large scale energy storage, it will be difficult to rely on intermittent renewables for much more than 20-30 percent of our electricity. To overcome this problem, we are pursuing breakthrough approaches to grid-scale energy storage as well as stimulating the wide-spread adoption of known technologies such as pumped hydro energy storage. But nuclear power can provide large amounts of carbon-free power that is always available.

Here's a chart showing the International Energy Agency’s estimate of the combination of technologies that will be needed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the United States - and put the world on a sustainable energy path.

As you'll see, we need nuclear power as part of a comprehensive solution: investing in energy efficiency, wind, solar, geothermal, carbon capture, energy storage, electric vehicles, and more. In doing so, we are sparking a new industrial revolution that will create millions of new jobs here in the United States and lay the foundation for America's long-term economic prosperity.

Those are some of my thoughts. I look forward to reading more of yours. What do you think?