When someone mentions the word “nuclear” what comes to your mind?
For me, it used to be images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki or memories of Three Mile Island. These days, when I think about nuclear energy, I think of clean, reliable, emissions-free electricity.
Georgia Power recently announced that as of July 31, Unit 3 of its Vogtle Plant began commercial operation. This means that for the first time in 7 years, a new nuclear power plant is producing and selling electricity in the United States. The last one was Tennessee Valley Authority’s Watts Bar Unit 2 reactor, which started producing power in October 2016.
Vogtle’s Unit 3 can supply up to 1,110 megawatts (MW) of clean, emissions-free electricity, enough to power roughly 500,000 homes and businesses. The Unit 4 reactor should also come online within the next year.
Vogtle is important. Our power provider, PowerSouth Energy Cooperative, was a partner in building Units 3 and 4. As you are reading this a portion of the power now going into your home or business was generated at Unit 3 near Waynesboro, GA.
How does this make you feel?
This question has never been more important. How people feel about nuclear power is going to shape our energy future. The demand for carbon-free sources of electricity is increasing. Our climate is changing, and human contribution to that cannot be ruled out. As we search for “clean” sources of power, we must keep reliability in mind.
Thankfully, this topic is being discussed. Solar and wind resources can provide emissions-free electricity, but they come with significant reliability issues. Windmills cannot produce without wind, and solar cannot produce without sunlight.
If we are to successfully transition away from fossil-fueled electric generation in our lifetimes, nuclear is currently our only, large-scale, viable option. That’s not to say renewables don’t have their place, but the world has a constant and growing need for always-on electricity. With today’s technologies, and even those being developed, renewables cannot supply that need.
Is nuclear power without its faults? Of course not. No power source is pure. Nuclear plants do produce waste, but when compared with other sources of generation, the amount is minimal.
Unlike wind, solar, and even hydroelectric sources of power, nuclear plants have a relatively small footprint and little impact on surrounding ecosystems. New, more efficient nuclear reactors are being developed in smaller packages with less waste, but will we embrace these technologies quickly enough?
For a segment of our population, the stigma attached to nuclear is nearly as insurmountable as the technical challenges of trying to make renewable sources of generation provide all our power needs.
We are an energy-hungry society whose appetite is only growing. Our efficiency measures are being outpaced by the sheer number of electric devices we now use.
We are proud to have Vogtle supplying a portion of your power. It provides clean, emissions-free, efficient, reliable electricity. If we are going to continue enjoying reliable, carbon-free electricity, we are going to have to consider options — like nuclear — that are beyond our current sources of renewable generation.