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 that nuclear energy provides — plenty of affordable, reliable energy to the world — we allow, privately at least, to fall into the valley of doubt, skepticism and fear about its continued use.
It is easy to take New Jersey’s nuclear plants for granted and underestimate the huge positive economic impact they have on the state – and especially South Jersey. However, as more and more nuclear plants close across the nation, it makes sense to take a closer look at just how important an economic engine they are for our region and understand that these plants are worth preserving.
For that reason, the role of energy, the environment and the economic concerns for our region will continue to be 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 preserving New Jersey’s nuclear energy generation potential should be on our collective agenda.
Here in New Jersey, the Salem and Hope Creek plants employ 1,600 full-time workers – employees with good salaries and benefits. The vast majority of these workers live and spend their salaries – a payroll totaling more than $175 million a year – in New Jersey. A recent study by The Brattle Group, “Salem and Hope Creek Nuclear Power Plant’s Contribution to the New Jersey Economy,” estimates that if these nuclear plants were to close there would be a loss of 5,800 direct and indirect jobs. The report also shows that the nuclear plants in South Jersey contribute more than $800 million annually to New Jersey’s gross domestic product (GDP) and are responsible for more than $37 million in state and local tax revenues each year.
This is not just an issue for the thousands of people who will lose their jobs if the plants close. Workers and their family members are affected as they are forced to leave the region to find employment, neighbors are impacted as property values and school enrollments drop, and all residents are impacted by decreased services or higher tax rates as revenues for local and state coffers decline. It is a story that has been repeated everywhere that nuclear plants have closed.
New Jersey’s growing challenge in this area of meeting an increased demand for energy, the proper stewardship of our environment in the face of the overwhelming evidence of climate change and maintaining the economic vitality of our region will require innovative thinking and bold investment. Here in New Jersey, it will require focusing on meeting these laudable objectives, 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. A conversation about nuclear energy is fraught with knee-jerk reactions that require a conscious effort for each of us to step back and deal rationally with all of the facts. Considering that currently roughly 40 percent of New Jersey’s energy is produced by nuclear power, we cannot ignore the future of this industry in our state. Furthermore, 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 each and every year.
If we are to truly reach our state’s clean 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 state’s energy needs are met. That includes ensuring that New Jersey’s nuclear plants can continue to provide safe, reliable and clean energy to our region. That’s my take. What’s yours?