The Garden State Should Double Down on Nuclear Power

The Garden State Should Double Down on Nuclear Power
Peter Ackerman/The Asbury Park Press via AP

Following weeks of deliberation amid much controversy and criticism, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy did the right thing on May 23. He signed legislation to provide modest and tightly monitored subsidies to keep three New Jersey nuclear facilities operating.

For economic and environmental reasons, the governor should go further and champion nuclear power for the state’s future. By embracing an approach to nuclear energy advocated by President Obama and a growing number of environmentalists, Gov. Murphy can achieve New Jersey’s clean energy future.

The legislation has many near-term benefits. It preserves thousands of middle-class jobs and enables several communities to stay economically vibrant. By signing this legislation, the governor also ensured a reliable supply of electricity for the state which is essential for public safety and business continuity.

In the longer term, the legislation will protect New Jerseyans from the higher tax expenditures that would have come from assisting those who would otherwise have been out of work as well as the higher health care costs that would have resulted from spiking fossil fuel use and emissions.

But the governor should go even further in his embrace nuclear power. In so doing, he would be following the lead of President Obama, NASA’s James Hansen, and a large and growing number of environmental leaders.

As President Obama said:

Nuclear energy remains our largest source of fuel that produces no carbon emissions. To meet our growing energy needs and prevent the worst consequences of climate change, we’ll need to increase our supply of nuclear power. It’s that simple.

Nuclear power provides 38.5 percent of New Jersey’s electricity compared to the national average of 20 percent. In addition, nuclear power provides more than 10 times as much clean, non-emitting power as all renewable power sources in the state — combined. Losing nuclear power means major economic and environmental disruptions.

James Hansen, a former NASA climate scientist and leader in the fight against climate change, has said it would be “crazy” not to use nuclear power to address this challenge. That is especially the case in the Garden State, where losing nuclear power means an emissions spike.

While Governor Murphy has been kicked around by Alec Baldwin, the Sierra Club, and other environmental zealots, a prestigious and growing number of environmentalists strongly support nuclear power. This includes Patrick Moore co-founder of Greenpeace, Stewart Brand, founder of Whole Earth Catalog, Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and Michael Shellenberger, president of Environmental Progress.

Mr. Shellenberger testified before the New Jersey Legislature that closing the state’s nuclear power plants would create as much pollution as adding 2.8 million cars to the state’s roads. In addition, he showed that subsidies for solar power will be 18–28 times what will be paid for nuclear power in the legislation.

There are many other benefits nuclear power provides New Jersey and America besides quality middle-class jobs and abundant, emission-free power.

A November 6, 2015 fact sheet from the Obama White House said:

Investing in the safe and secure development of nuclear power also helps advance other vital policy objectives in the national interest, such as maintaining economic competitiveness and job creation, as well as enhancing nuclear nonproliferation efforts, nuclear safety and security, and energy security.

With a vibrant U.S. nuclear power industry that continues to invest in research and development, manufacturers in the United States will be better positioned for growth. A strong nuclear power industry is also essential as America goes through the multi-year process of building new submarines and assessing the best sources for expanded space travel, including a mission to Mars. There are even synergies in nuclear medicine research.

Governor Murphy issued an executive order for the state to achieve 100 percent clean energy by 2050. With less than 4 percent of the state’s electricity currently coming from renewable sources, that goal is impossible without having nuclear power around for the long run.

For these and other economic and environmental reasons, Gov. Murphy should enthusiastically embrace nuclear power. Meeting the goals of his energy plan depends on it.

Paul Steidler is a senior fellow with the Lexington Institute, a public policy think tank based in Arlington, Virginia. He is a New Jersey native.

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