The last time a nuclear reactor was approved, the year was 1978. Jimmy Carter was president, the Bee Gees dominated the Billboard Top 100, Animal House debuted at the top of the box office, and a gallon of gas cost 63 cents. A new generation of reactors is long overdue.
Today, U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu toured Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle in Waynesboro, the first U.S. plant to win approval for the construction of nuclear reactors in more than three decades.
This is the first step towards what Republicans and many Democrats alike hope will mark the reemergence of nuclear power as a viable energy source. A majority of Americans agree. A 2011 national survey found that 71 percent of the public favors nuclear energy as one way to generate electricity. Eighty-four percent believe nuclear energy will play an important role in meeting U.S. electricity needs in the future.
Our reliance on foreign energy is an economic and national security risk, and finding alternative sources of power is critical. Nuclear energy should play an important role in achieving this goal. By 2030, demand for electricity is projected to skyrocket 27 percent in the Southeast alone. This plant will help meet those needs, especially as legislation and environmental rules make it increasingly difficult to produce coal-generated electricity.
Responsible for one-fifth of U.S. energy supplies, we cannot afford to marginalize our home-grown energy security given that more than 40 percent of nuclear licenses expire in 2015. I encourage President Obama and Secretary Chu to continue this investment in our future by expanding the development of additional plants.
As a proven clean technology, nuclear energy is a stable investment that is not subject to unpredictable cost fluctuations, climate conditions, or dependence on unreliable nations. Just one uranium fuel pellet – about the size of the tip of a pinky finger – contains the same amount of energy as 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas, 1,780 pounds of coal, or 149 gallons of oil.
As a staunch supporter of nuclear power, I recognize not only the role it plays in allowing the United States to become more energy independent, but its "multiplier effect"—the positive economic impact it has on surrounding areas.
I have seen the effects this last point can have on a local economy first-hand. In the early 1950s, DuPont began construction on the Savannah River Plant, a nuclear reactor facility, in my hometown of Aiken, South Carolina. At the time, my parents owned and operated The Riviera Motel, a 26-room inn that housed many of the plant workers. Even as a small child, I could see the economic boom the plant provided for my small town. Nearly a decade later, I worked as a co-op at the same plant as a Georgia Tech engineering student.
During the plant’s early years, Savannah River Site created over 38,000 direct construction jobs. The effects were far-reaching and today, the plant still employs more than 10,000 people.
Georgia Power estimates that the Vogtle plant represents a $14 billion investment and will add up to 5,000 on-site jobs to the Waynesboro area. This couldn’t come at a more critical time for our state, particularly for residents of Burke County, whose unemployment rate has surpassed the state average at 11.3 percent.
The Vogtle Plant units will ultimately power 500,000 homes and businesses across Georgia. During construction and throughout the lifetime of the plant, which is an estimated 60 years, local businesses will grow. The surrounding community and the state of Georgia will also benefit from its tax revenue.
Because of nuclear reemergence, this ripple effect of investment and development will ultimately allow the United States to prosper.
Rep. Gingrey is the ranking member of the Science Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation.