By Congressman Adam Kizinger & Mark Peters -
When we think of renewable energy sources, most envision solar panels or wind turbines. But as our world's need for safe, reliable, affordable, abundant sources of clean energy continues to grow, nuclear energy remains the only source of energy that can meet our daily needs safely without adding further pollution to our planet's atmosphere — a crucial issue as Illinois and other states seek to reduce pollution without hampering our economy.
In 2012, nuclear energy produced nearly 20 percent of America's total electrical output. But for 30 years, no new power plants have been brought on line in this country, forcing us to rely on higher-carbon energy sources to create our electricity.
Those environmental impacts are significant. A recent analysis by the Illinois Clean Energy Coalition found that, last year alone, emission-free nuclear power avoided the creation of more than 90 million tons of carbon dioxide emission — just in Illinois.
Meanwhile, other nations have taken the lead in expanding nuclear power. In China, 28 new reactors are under construction — including some of the world's most advanced designs — with more scheduled to break ground soon. France, which generates 75 percent of its electricity from nuclear energy, has become the world's largest net exporter of electricity; the French also are leaders in selling nuclear technologies worldwide. Using French technology, Britain has embarked on its first nuclear power station in 20 years, which should start delivering energy to 7 million homes in 2023.
Now, the United States is taking an important step toward regaining nuclear leadership, with three new power plants under construction. But many of our existing reactors are nearing the half-century mark, and we cannot expect them to keep working forever. To ensure a clean, safe, affordable, abundant supply of electricity, our nation needs to develop a nuclear energy strategy that will sustain our economic expansion and keep the lights on while we work to catch up with our international competition.
This is a particularly serious issue here in Illinois, the home of nuclear energy. Every nuclear reactor in the world owes its existence to Argonne National Laboratory, where peaceful nuclear energy was first created. Argonne nuclear scientists still are among the best in the world, and we have a vested interest in ensuring U.S. leadership in nuclear power. Ninety percent of Illinois' clean energy comes from nuclear plants, four of which are located in the 16th Congressional District.
At Argonne and in laboratories around the country, American engineers are using the latest generation of supercomputers and the most advanced new materials to create power plant designs that could transform nuclear energy by making highly efficient reactors that are safer than ever, and by developing new technologies that will help to solve the world's ongoing challenges with spent fuel storage and nonproliferation. But we can't keep moving ahead without committing the resources needed to realize our goal.
In 2010, a national survey found high levels of support for nuclear energy among the American public: 71 percent said they favor nuclear energy as a way to generate electricity, and 84 percent said they believe nuclear energy will play an important role in meeting U.S. electricity needs in the years ahead.
For almost 70 years, Illinois has been a leader in developing the technologies that are at the foundation of clean, safe, reliable, affordable nuclear power around the world. Our federal investment in nuclear research and development — in Illinois and across the nation — will enhance our knowledge, boost our economy and point us toward a cleaner, brighter, more independent energy future.
Adam Kinzinger is U.S. representative for Illinois' 16th District.
Mark T. Peters is deputy director for programs at Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont.