By Frank Stewart, President and COO of the American Association of Blacks in Energy and Michael Hill, Executive Vice President of Lincoln University
April 18, 2011
While we each come from different backgrounds and perspectives, we each have been engaged in the national discussion about nuclear energy. We know its benefits – an affordable, available and reliable source of electricity that doesn’t generate greenhouse gases.
It is because we have been such active and vocal proponents of nuclear energy that we feel compelled to weigh in now, at this critical juncture for America’s energy future and in the wake of the tragic events unfolding in Japan.
First and foremost, our hearts are with the thousands of Japanese families affected by the recent earthquake and resulting tsunami. These disasters have had an unprecedented impact on people throughout the Sendai region and in many other parts of the country. We have been watching with admiration as the engineers at the Fukushima nuclear facility bravely work to stabilize the damaged reactors.
For all of us, it’s natural to have questions – about the safety of our nuclear plants here at home and about the role that nuclear energy can and should play in the United States moving forward. In times like these, it is always prudent to pause, reflect and look at the facts.
When the earthquake hit, the Fukushima plant’s reactors did exactly what they were designed to do – they shut down. It was the ensuing tsunami that disabled the emergency generators used to power the reactor’s cooling systems.
While this combination of multiple disasters never happened before, our nuclear plants must be ready for any eventuality. That’s why we were pleased to learn that the nuclear energy industry has taken steps to review the safety of every one of America’s nuclear power plants. In close coordination with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the government agency that oversees the industry, each facility’s capability to maintain safety is being verified, even in the face of unthinkable disasters. Specifically, in light of what happened to Japanese reactors, U.S. plants are making sure that even a total loss of electric power will not disable a reactor’s critical cooling systems. We have every confidence that our U.S. nuclear energy plants will be even stronger based on what we learn from the situation in Japan.
Still, there are those who may be tempted to write nuclear energy off altogether. That would be unfortunate. It would also be unrealistic. Many don’t realize it, but nuclear energy provides 20 percent of the electricity our nation uses. Replacing that capacity would require decades of time and tens of billions of dollars. And nuclear energy remains one of our country’s cleanest energy options, accounting for 70 percent of America’s carbon-free power every year. In the years ahead, its role helping to rein in GHG emissions will only increase.
President Obama is right when he says that we cannot take nuclear power off the table. If anything, it’s going to need to play an even bigger role in producing the clean, affordable and reliable energy we’ll need in the future. As we continue to keep the people of Japan in our hearts and thoughts, it’s encouraging to know that the lessons we are learning there are being applied here. This will help to ensure that the nuclear industry can continue providing the clean, safe, cost-efficient energy our communities deserve.