EDITORIAL: More nuclear power

By NEMS Daily Journal

Among the mostly unremarked-upon points in President Obama’s State of the Union speech on Wednesday night was his clearly stated support for expansion of nuclear power generation, a source that arguably could supply most of the country’s electricity and decrease reliance on coal-fired generating plants.
The Washington Post’s Frank Ahrens, noting what he called a “tip o’ the cap to nuclear power,” said the nuclear reference was the overlooked business story of the night.
This is what Obama said:
“But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. That means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country.”
Nuclear power is controversial, and it is expensive, but it is efficient, and it is clean.
The Tennessee Valley Authority, which powers Northeast Mississippi and all or part of six other southern states, is among the most successful operators of nuclear power plants in the U.S., and with demand for electricity growing in its service area every year the nuclear power option is in its planning processes.
Obama’s acknowledgment of the nuclear power option is the kind of political breakthrough that could help satisfy our nation’s energy needs.
Political liberals like Obama most often have been among nuclear power plants’ strongest opponents. They cite the serious accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania 31 years ago – 197 9– and of course, Chernobyl, the megadisaster resulting from shoddy Russian engineering and inadequate safety measures at the ill-fated site in the Ukraine, in 1986.
But nothing close to Chernobyl, including Three Mile Island, has ever happened in the United States. A U.N. report figures Chernobyl eventually will kill 4,000 people, and 200,000 people were permanently relocated because of it. Three Mile Island hasn’t been determined as the cause of any illnesses and the amount of radiation released was not alarming.
TVA is among the power generators that have brought nuclear reactors on line or restarted them since Three Mile Island. Last year, the Post reported, 59 percent of Americans said they support nuclear power generation.
Northeast Mississippi was supposed to have a nuclear generating plant at Yellow Creek in northern Tishomingo County, but high costs and TVA’s debt scuttled those plans before completion. Who’s to say our region won’t become the host for another, completed nuclear plant?
As noted in many quarters, the nuclear engineering of the 21st century is vastly more sophisticated than early plants, and it’s safer.
An advance indication of Obama’s reference on Wednesday came from Energy Secretary Steven Chu, in a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on Jan. 21:
“The White House is supportive of nuclear. We see this as part of the solution. …Right now 20 percent of our electricity is from nuclear; we would like … possibly grow that. For that reason we are working aggressively to help restart the American nuclear industry with loan guarantees with research … that will lead to more advanced, safer nuclear power.”
Yes, the waste storage issue isn’t solved, but neither is there a guarantee that oil spills, gas line breaks, and coal debris won’t cause further problems.
We believe the president and many supporters of nuclear electricity in both parties are right: Move forward toward more nuclear power generation.