Erik Paulsen and Tim Walz: A consensus is emerging on nuclear power

  • Article by: ERIK PAULSEN and TIM WALZ
  • Updated: March 2, 2010 - 6:58 PM

If Minnesota is to participate in this advantageous shift, it must drop its ban.

President Obama recently announced that the federal government will support the construction of two nuclear reactors in Georgia by providing $8.3 billion in loan guarantees. Construction of the reactors, the first in the United States in more than 30 years, would represent an important step forward in a debate that has long divided political parties, advocacy groups and elected officials.

For decades, the debate over nuclear energy has been stalled, largely along ideological lines. During that time, our nation's primary energy sources have drastically narrowed. Our emissions have increased. High and volatile energy prices have become standard. As a result, our nation is heavily reliant on energy sources that come from countries and regions often hostile to our interests.

The recognition that we must address these critical issues has changed the nuclear debate for the better. There is little disagreement that we must diversify our energy portfolio to meet future energy needs. Equally important, there is a growing consensus that nuclear energy must be a part of that equation.

As an energy source, nuclear energy is on par with traditional sources like coal and natural gas. Unlike with some renewable sources, we can count on it for consistent power -- come rain, snow, sun or clouds. The U.S. Department of Energy forecasts that the United States will need 28 percent more electricity by 2035, so new power sources are critical. Nuclear plants are also the lowest-cost producer of always-available electricity.

Nuclear energy is clean, preventing the emission of nearly 700 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year in the United States, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute. Expanding it will allow us to meet our energy needs while reducing our carbon emissions in the long term -- a true win-win.

Finally, with technological advances and the most stringent safety standards in the energy industry, nuclear energy is far safer today than it has ever been. Nuclear plants are very closely regulated and are among the most heavily guarded facilities in the country. European plants continue to demonstrate the success of safety advances, and we can model a new generation of American plants after these successes.

A few years ago, it would have been difficult to find members of Congress from different political parties working together on this issue. It would have been difficult to find businesses, labor and environmental groups working together on this issue. However, that is exactly what is happening today right here in Minnesota, where a broad coalition of those supporting nuclear energy expansion is taking hold.

Unfortunately, Minnesota still remains hindered by one major obstacle: the state's longstanding ban on nuclear power plant expansion. Under current law, construction of new nuclear power plants -- like the project underway in Georgia -- cannot even be considered in our state. This ban puts Minnesota at a competitive disadvantage at a time when momentum for nuclear energy is clearly moving in the right direction.

With the Minnesota Legislature back in session, we are reiterating our call for lawmakers to lift this ban in order to open up new opportunities for nuclear expansion. Doing so will keep Minnesota at the forefront of an energy revolution in this country.

In the meantime, we will continue pushing for needed action at the federal level, most notably on the nuclear waste storage issue. The Obama administration recently announced the members of a Blue Ribbon Commission panel charged with finding a safe storage site for nuclear waste. We believe this panel must work quickly to develop a solution, and we will be pressing for timely and decisive action.

We also will continue to pursue measures that will streamline the nuclear permitting process to help encourage growth, while above all ensuring that any new projects adhere to the strictest safety standards. Finally, we will continue working on our bipartisan legislation to create a diverse energy plan for the United States, with nuclear energy serving as a key component.

Erik Paulsen, a Republican, and Tim Walz, a Democrat, are members of the U.S. House. They represent Minnesota's Third and First congressional districts, respectively.

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