GLENN McCULLOUGH: U.S. needs nuclear as part of ‘all of the above’ energy strategy

GLENN McCULLOUGH

GLENN McCULLOUGH

On Jan. 10, the Weather Channel broadcast an extraordinarily rare headline: “Coldest Temperatures of the Century for Some.” It was referring to the “Polar Vortex,” that swept into states as far south as Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia in the early days of the new year.

On the flip side, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration pegged 2012 as the warmest year on record for the contiguous United States. That summer, 99 million Americans experienced at least 10 days of temperatures above 100 degrees.

Here’s the point: extreme weather happens. Whether it’s a deep cold or a stifling heat, Americans deal with varying temperature changes throughout the year. It would be nice if the only thing those shifts affected was our decision to wear a sweater or a T-shirt. Unfortunately, weather variables have enormous impacts on our country’s electric power supply, stability and cost.

When I was appointed to the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) board of directors in 1999, I was struck by TVA’s deep and unrelenting commitment toward safe, reliable, and affordable nuclear energy. As a result, TVA and local power companies are able to keep the lights on year after year for 9 million people throughout the Tennessee Valley.

During my tenure at TVA, we embarked on a strenuous evaluation of every baseload electric generation option, including natural gas and coal, with controls to reduce harmful emissions. In 2002, the board made the decision to restart a reactor that had been offline since 1985. When evaluated for environmental impacts, financial and operational soundness and long-term reliability, restarting the Brown’s Ferry 1 reactor was the best option for future power generation.

The restart was meticulously planned with a $1.8 billion budget and a five-year timeframe. In 2007, Brown’s Ferry 1 was brought back online – both on schedule and on budget. President Bush personally traveled to the facility to commemorate the successful restart.

Today, Brown’s Ferry is reliably generating safe, clean, affordable nuclear energy. That reactor, along with other nuclear energy facility in 31 states, proves that nuclear energy plays a vital role in providing cleaner, reliable, and less expensive electricity for Americans.

Without nuclear energy, in fact, there’s no doubt consumers would have faced widespread electricity shortages during that summer of 2012 and this winter. And with the way our nation’s coal plants are shutting down due to EPA regulation, nuclear energy should play a more significant role in the years ahead.

No matter what the weather brings, Americans need reliable energy, especially in the face of record temperatures. When supply shortages are met with the high demand of summer and winter months, it always leads to higher prices for consumers. In the worst cases, it leads to blackouts. Those are the times we need reliable energy the most.

Currently, 100 reactors produce almost 20 percent of America’s total electricity. Nuclear plants operate safely and are online an industry-leading 91 percent of the time, generating clean, affordable electricity around the clock. That’s more reliable than any other source of electricity, including natural gas and coal. They also produce nearly two-thirds of all carbon-free electricity nationwide.

It’s time to take a closer look at nuclear energy. It’s clear that nuclear energy plays a key role in a balanced electricity production portfolio to power our economic growth and today’s digital lifestyle.

Glenn McCullough Jr. served as mayor of Tupelo and was chairman of TVA from 2001-2005. Currently he is chairman of the board for NuVision Engineering in Pittsburgh. Follow him on Twitter, @GlennMcCJr.