When opportunity comes knocking, you would presume that President Trump would move quickly to take it. This is a man who clearly relishes taking advantage of opportunities.
Well, nuclear power has a pretty loud knock.
Whether the goal is to create jobs; or to make America energy independent; or to do large infrastructure construction projects; or to maintain and expand our strategic advantage in the world; or to grow our economy — nuclear power fits the bill.
The United States created the civilian nuclear industry and has led the way in its development for decades. We continue to maintain the largest fleet of nuclear power plants in the world with the best technology and safety records.
But American dominance is being challenged by China and Russia. Both of those countries are investing enormous sums in the construction of new facilities and, more importantly, new technologies to gain a competitive advantage over the United States.
Unless there is a commitment to maintaining a first-rate fleet here at home — in tandem with efforts to promote U.S. technology abroad — these countries will fill the void. This would be an unnecessary loss of a significant economic and strategic advantage.
A strong nuclear fleet reduces our dependence on foreign countries for energy. At the same time, it enhances our national security standing around the world.
Countries that are seeking to improve their own electricity facilities, and which are not blessed with our abundance of natural resources like gas, are going to turn somewhere for assistance.
We should not accept them turning toward Beijing or Moscow. They should be turning toward American manufacturers and technicians. Because of the longevity of these facilities, from planning through operation, the nuclear industry creates relationships that can last for decades. This can pay large political and economic dividends.
Nuclear power is also a major force in the United States for a balanced, clean and dependable energy policy.
Nuclear plants run 24/7. They do not shut down. This is critical to maintaining our electrical supply in times of stress such as the polar vortex of 2014.
Many electrical production facilities can be under great strain when severe weather is a factor. Nuclear power can pick up the slack, as it has in the past, heading off the prospect of large brownouts or even blackouts.
Yes, natural gas is now readily available and cheap. But it would be a mistake for our nation to put all our eggs in one basket.
Nuclear power now supplies about 20 percent of America’s electricity. This diversity of supply is important to a balanced energy policy. This is one reason why we should not allow nuclear plants that have plenty of useful life left to close prematurely.
Nuclear power is a huge creator of domestic jobs. Each facility directly adds 400 to 700 jobs per 1,000 megawatts of power capacity. When ancillary employment is included, nuclear power plants create tens of thousands of good-paying jobs.
Of course, the construction of new plants is about the biggest infrastructure effort the nation can embark upon. New plants currently being built in Georgia and South Carolina involve 5000 to 6000 construction workers. Now that is “huge” by anyone’s standards — even the president’s.
In addition, of course, nuclear is our most significant non-carbon-emitting power source, accounting for 64 percent of the non-carbon-emitting energy production in the nation. Supporting nuclear power is a good environmental move for Republicans.
But nuclear power production is under considerable pressure. The recent bankruptcy of Westinghouse, a nuclear power company, reinforces this concern. The government has a significant role in ensuring the viability of nuclear power plants — both those that our now operating and those that will be constructed.
For these reasons, we need efficient and cost-effective regulations that promote rather than stymie the use of nuclear power. The regulations we have today are too onerous. But regulatory relief should be right in the Trump administration’s wheelhouse.
When the president is looking around for undertakings that can have multiple positive impacts on our economy and our international competitiveness, straightening out the regulatory mess that surrounds nuclear power seems a natural.
Hopefully the administration is hearing the knocking at the door.
Judd Gregg (R) is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, and as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Foreign Operations subcommittee.
He is a member of the leadership council of Nuclear Matters, a group that promotes nuclear energy.