Published: November 14, 2012
California’s discussion about the merits of nuclear energy is an important one as consumers consider the state’s energy future.
With Southern California Edison’s (SCE) San Onofre reactors offline, many are asking questions about the contribution of nuclear energy to California’s energy future and the stability of our electric grid. California relies on nuclear energy for one-fifth of the state’s electricity. In the years to come, Californians will require even more clean and efficient electricity to power their homes and businesses.
SCE’s engineers, leading industry experts, and the independent Nuclear Regulatory Commission are working to determine a safe operating solution for San Onofre’s steam generators. While it is not ideal for a state that relies heavily on nuclear energy to have one of its facilities taken out of operation for an extended period of time, SCE’s primary focus is the safety at the site and for its neighbors and it will not restart San Onofre until the company and federal regulators are satisfied that it is safe to do so.
This commitment to safety is firmly entrenched in the industry’s DNA. I have had the opportunity to visit several nuclear energy facilities across America and common to all of them is their unwavering commitment to safety. It drives everything employees do, from reactor operators in the control room to every other worker at the plant.
The nuclear energy industry has the highest safety record in this country and has demonstrated a commitment to continuously updating and improving its best practices based on lessons learned across the global industry. Furthermore, America’s 104 electricity-producing reactors are subject to the toughest safety requirements and the highest level of regulatory scrutiny. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has two independent, resident inspectors at San Onofre and has additional inspection teams overseeing repairs to the facility’s steam generators.
SCE will spend nearly $64 million on new technology, seismic studies, research and analysis to reconfirm the safety of the plant and enhance its ability to withstand extreme natural events, such as large earthquakes. While San Onofre’s reactors were originally designed with added engineering and safety measures, SCE, like other U.S. companies operating nuclear energy facilities, is making even more improvements and responding to the lessons learned from the events at Fukushima Daiichi and preparing to meet whatever Mother Nature may have in store.
In California, nuclear energy produces 24/7 power that is essential to its economy and residents. Historically, nuclear energy facilities are among the most reliable on the electric grid, producing electricity uninterrupted over an 18- to 24-month span until they shut down as part of routine, scheduled procedures to replace fuel in the reactor.
A lesser known advantage to nuclear energy is the role it plays in stabilizing the entire regional electric grid. This stabilization is critical for adding power to the grid from remotely located renewable energy sources like wind and solar.
California has led the country in climate change initiatives, supporting clean energy projects and enacting stringent greenhouse gas standards. Moving forward, the state will need a diverse energy mix that includes nuclear power to meet its energy needs and greenhouse gas emission reduction goals simultaneously. Nuclear energy already accounts for 37 percent of California’s carbon-free power and is the largest source of electricity that does not emit greenhouse gases.
In addition, the cost of electricity that is generated by nuclear power is independent of changes in weather conditions and fluctuations in fossil fuel costs. Although cheap prices are prompting a sharp rise in the use of natural gas for electricity production, it is important to maintain an energy portfolio that will protect consumers against unexpected swings in fuel prices and availability by reducing our reliance on any single energy source. It makes sense to have fuel and technology diversity for electric generation while striving for the optimal mix of environmental protection, energy reliability and consumer cost.
SCE has demonstrated that it is committed to helping Southern Californians realize the benefits of nuclear energy for years to come. In the coming decade, California will be challenged to simultaneously grow its economy, meet rising electricity demand and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The state must establish a comprehensive and sustainable energy policy that supports the development of diverse, low-carbon solutions.
We need more electricity and we want clean air. With nuclear energy, we can get both and maintain the reliability of the electricity grid. Carbon-free nuclear energy – safely operated and maintained – should be an essential part of California’s long-term energy mix.
Moore is co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition and co-founder of Greenpeace.