The All-of-the Above Energy Strategy

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It would be difficult to volunteer a word that has more potential for raising a reflexive concern than the term nuclear.

While we know the benefits it provides — plenty of affordable, reliable energy to the world — we allow, privately at least, to fall into the valley of doubt, skepticism and fear.

For that reason, the role of energy and the environment both now and for future generations is an unending discussion. And if we are to offer our intelligence, creativity and problem-solving skills, then every possible answer is something we must carefully analyze. When it comes to solving the growing need for energy, while reducing carbon emissions to deal with climate change, then honest debate on the pros and cons of nuclear energy should be on our collective agenda. 

Our country's growing dual challenges of creating and sustaining true energy independence from foreign sources to meet an increasing demand and the proper stewardship of our environment in the face of the overwhelming evidence of climate change will require an innovative approach. It will require focusing on getting the job done rather than designating which vehicles can and cannot be used to meet these challenges.

The need for various sources of clean power has never been clearer. To address the issue of climate change, the world needs 40 percent of electricity to come from zero-emissions sources, according to the International Energy Agency. Now, the work to expand renewable energy sources must continue. Those efforts are a key component to meeting this charge. However, energy experts from all over the world have concluded that these efforts alone will leave us considerably short of meeting that demand.

That is why re-examining nuclear energy, and more specifically advanced nuclear technology, is essential. Technological innovation in this sector has grown rapidly, and the fears of this industry have begun to be addressed. Advanced nuclear reactors are using innovative fuels and alternative coolants like molten salt, high temperature gas, or liquid metal instead of high-pressure water, and even fusion reactors, to generate electricity. These innovations can spur a national discussion that allows us to reject inflexible and antiquated reasoning that drives policy steeped in political orthodoxy and not toward a pragmatic solution.

A conversation about nuclear energy is fraught with either a stereotype for knee-jerk reactions that it almost requires a conscious effort to step back and face the facts. I’m suggesting that expanding the safe use of nuclear energy should be on the table for conversation. And, to be clear this is not a proposal to use a technology that is new. Much of the world already uses it. In fact, roughly 50 percent of New Jersey’s energy is produced by nuclear power. Further, According to the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), nuclear energy generates 98.5 percent of New Jersey’s carbon-free energy. And, the nature of that use, including safety and efficiency, has progressed significantly.

Recently, a dim picture has brightened. Several bipartisan bills are pending before Congress which confront the obstacles that would prevent the United States from developing next-generation nuclear power. “The House introduced a billed entitle Advanced Nuclear Technology Development Act that would create a more efficient regulatory review process more aligned to the requirements of the current and future nuclear energy systems,” according to Derrick Freeman, in realclearpolicy.com. “The Senate passed bipartisan legislation … directing the Department of Energy to partner with private innovators to develop and test concept supporting advanced reactor technologies and to work with the NRC [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] to establish a testing facility for these concepts.”

This is a commendable beginning. But it will be the follow through that matters most. if we are to truly reach our nation's energy goals and stem the tide of climate change, we cannot allow ourselves to be prisoners of old world thinking. As technological innovations abound we need to embrace the advancements in energy science to ensure that our country's energy needs are met. That’s my take, what’s yours?


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  • commented 2016-07-28 14:42:30 -0400
    There are a number of problems with nuclear energy which are not touched upon in this otherwise excellent essay.

    First, the nation has no comprehensive approach to the disposal of nuclear waste. Yucca Mountain may never happen, and in the meantime, spent nuclear fuel poses an environmental and potential terrorist hazard when it is stored on site.

    By its very nature, nuclear power plants are large installations in relatively isolated locations and require a robust and reliable transmission system. By contrast, solar and wind power can be generated much closer to the consumer, making it cheaper and more robust in getting power to the ultimate users.

    Accidents happen. We’ve seen this in Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. No system can be made 100% safe. So even if the probability of a similar accident is extremely low, if and when it DOES occur, the consequental damage to the surroundings, the health of the population, and the long-term effects are very high. If a solar array catches fire or a windmill falls down, the damage is localized to a small area and there are no long-term effects. Not so with nuclear. The impact of failure is a generational problem.

    Instead of building more nukes, we should work toward increasing our inventory of clean energy generation facilities. In the long run, nuclear is neither cheap nor safe.