Nuclear Matters co-chair stresses importance of nuclear energy to sustain non-carbon emission goals

Nuclear Matters Co-Chair Judd Gregg
Nuclear Matters Co-Chair Judd Gregg | Nuclear Matters Co-Chair Judd Gregg

Judd Gregg, co-chair of Washington D.C.-based Nuclear Matters and a former New Hampshire senator, said the nation can’t achieve a sustainable energy policy without a strong nuclear component.

The goal of Nuclear Matters is to inform the public about the benefits that nuclear energy provides to the nation, raise awareness of the economic challenges to nuclear energy that threaten those benefits, and to work with stakeholders to explore possible policy solutions that properly value nuclear energy as a reliable, affordable and carbon-free electricity resource that is essential to America’s energy future.

Earlier this week, Gregg took part in a Bloomberg BNA and Nuclear Matters forum in Boston on the role of nuclear energy in New England's energy mix. Industry stakeholders discussed the significance of not only keeping existing nuclear plants open, but profitable, as well. In the following interview with Power News Wire, Gregg explains the importance of nuclear energy.

Power News Wire: What role should nuclear energy play in achieving the country’s environmental and energy objectives?

Gregg: I don’t think the country can achieve an energy policy without a strong nuclear component. Nuclear represents 62 percent of non-emitting carbon emissions, and if we’re going to hit reducing carbon numbers, we can’t do that without nuclear power. There are other non and low-emitting sources, but nuclear is the elephant in the room. You don’t want to end up with all your eggs in one basket; nuclear is reliable, and produces 24/7 all day every day, not like other sources such as wind and solar.

Power News Wire: What key challenges face power plants across the country, and why is it important to preserve existing plants?

Gregg: The industry, especially some plants, are facing a perfect storm of issues. Nuclear doesn’t produce carbons and doesn’t get enough credit. Of 20 plants nationwide, two have closed, and others that have a useful life may close prematurely. If they do close then you’re cutting off your nose to spite your face since they’re strong contributors to energy and non-carbon emissions. People just want their lights to turn on and if they don’t they’re upset. If we don’t maintain our fleet, the plants that are at risk, then we’re basically putting ourselves behind the eight ball.

Power News Wire: What are the economic effects of Entergy’s Vermont Yankee reactor closure throughout the region?

Gregg: The effects are significant for New Hampshire. It’s projected the prices of electricity will go up 50 percent. In Massachusetts, which received power from Vermont, their rates will go up 35 percent. Regionally, we don’t have natural resources for power such as gas, oil, solar and wind. Our only domestic energy source is nuclear. When we close a place like Vermont, we’re now importing our energy. And what we’re importing is natural gas that emits carbons. Since the plant’s closure, we’ve added 1.3 billion pounds of carbon into the atmosphere. Furthermore, jobs have taken a hit, taxes are hit, ratepayers are paying more, and we have to buy power from someone else.

Power News Wire: The EPA is set to issue a rule soon to reduce carbon emissions, which brings nuclear's value in producing carbon-free energy to the fore. How will that rule affect the nation's ability to provide clean energy?

Gregg: If it pushes down to the states, and any plants close, then those states will not be able to hit their non-carbon emission reduction numbers. If we had to close our plant in New Hampshire, our carbon emissions would jump. It’ll be hard under 111-D if nuclear isn’t part of the mix. As good as wind and solar energy is, they simply can’t pick up the load.

Power News Wire: Do you think the nation needs more nuclear power plants?

Gregg: Nuclear Matters is about educating the public and to raise awareness about existing plants and plants that are at risk of closure. Personally, I think we do need more plants.

Power News Wire: In New York, nuclear energy plants provide one-third of the state's energy. How does this compare nationwide? Is it your opinion New York (or New England) needs to provide more? If so, how much?

Gregg: It varies by state; Massachusetts provides about 12 percent, Connecticut about 48 percent, and Vermont produced about 70 percent prior to its closure. Each state needs to come up with its own plan. If you take away New York’s third, for example, then how do you replace it? You will have to do it with carbon emitting energy. That makes no sense if you’re concerned with the environment.