Forum on Energy Q&A: Governor Christine Todd Whitman, Co-Chair, Clean and Safe Energy Coalition

Governor Whitman PhotoForum on Energy sat down with Christine Todd Whitman, former governor of New Jersey and head of the Environmental Protection Agency, and now the Co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, to talk about the state of the U.S. nuclear energy industry.

Forum on Energy: How has your career in public service and experience with the U.S. energy industry informed your views on nuclear energy?

Christine Todd Whitman: My experience as Governor of New Jersey and leading the Environmental Protection Agency has given me a chance to see firsthand the benefits that nuclear energy provides to U.S. citizens.

More than half of New Jersey’s electricity today comes from nuclear energy, and in my conversations with local residents I’ve found that most are extremely supportive of the power source. This is a trend that exists among nuclear neighbors across the nation; a recent survey found that 80 percent of Americans living nearby nuclear energy facilities favor the use of nuclear power.

One major reason for this support is the environmental benefits associated with nuclear energy. Sixty-three percent of our clean air electricity today comes from nuclear energy. As a matter of fact, U.S. nuclear energy-generated electricity avoids almost 613 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, which is equivalent to the amount released from all U.S. passenger cars combined.

From an economic standpoint, nuclear energy production benefits local communities as well, generating $470 million a year in total economic output and $16 million in state and local tax revenue that goes toward schools, roads and other local infrastructure.

In short, I’ve seen how nuclear energy production has enhanced local communities while helping achieve electricity and environmental goals at the same time. This is a large part of the reason that I’m advocating for the energy source with CASEnergy Coalition today. 

Forum on Energy: What are CASEnergy Coalition’s top priorities for 2013?

Christine Todd Whitman: CASEnergy Coalition’s mission is to educate the public about the valuable role nuclear energy plays in our country’s energy mix so that they can make informed decisions about our nation’s electricity future. With that in mind, our top priority in 2013 is to advance the national dialogue about our energy options, with a focus on the value that nuclear energy provides. 

This often means starting a conversation on some of the aspects of nuclear energy that most people don’t know about, such as the long-term benefits of committing to stable sources such as nuclear energy versus energy options that are cheaper but not necessarily as steady over the long term. It also means reaching out to some communities that may not be as familiar with the power source. We make it a priority to reach out to minority communities in particular to bring them the facts on nuclear energy, an initiative that we’ll continue to build on this year.

Our voice comes largely from our diverse membership base, a group of more than 3,000 nuclear energy advocates that includes people in academics, business-owners, politicians, students, workers and others. CASEnergy Coalition operates as a platform for these members to demonstrate their support for expanding nuclear energy use in America, and we connect these members to a variety of national and regional conversations related to the subject. We are also actively involved in the digital space, via our blog and Twitter feed (@CASEnergy).

2012 was an exciting year for the nuclear energy industry, given the recent approval for new nuclear energy facilities in Georgia and South Carolina and the Department of Energy’s (DOE) recent commitment to advance small modular reactor technology. These developments demonstrate the momentum behind nuclear energy expansion, and we’re looking forward to continuing to build on this support in 2013.

Forum on Energy: What is on your wish list for the 113th Congress? What are your realistic expectations?

Christine Todd Whitman: My hope is that Congress will prioritize developing a long-term energy strategy that focuses on building a broad portfolio of energy solutions. National energy demand is projected to rise 22 percent by 2035. We need to make sure that we have a plan that includes conservation and efficiency and utilizes all forms of electricity to meet this number while also preventing harmful air emissions.

It’s encouraging that President Obama recently listed energy and the environment as one of his top priorities in his second term, and I’m supportive of his “all of the above” energy strategy. There’s no silver bullet that will help us meet electricity demand responsibly, but by embracing all domestic electricity sources the U.S. will be able to keep costs low, protect the environment and reduce dependence on foreign energy sources.

As an emission-free energy resource when producing power, nuclear must continue to play a substantial role in our energy mix if we’re going to achieve these goals. Given the bipartisan support from both sides of the aisle, I believe that significant headway can be made from a legislative standpoint to provide Americans with a clean and safe energy future.

Forum on Energy: Plant Vogtle and V.C. Summer have faced some cost overruns and delays, and natural gas prices have made the energy marketplace increasingly competitive. What incentives are there for utilities to build new reactors in the U.S.?

Christine Todd Whitman: At the end of the day, a diverse energy portfolio is necessary for businesses, consumers and our nation’s energy security, and investments in clean and affordable sources like nuclear power are a smart choice to meet our long-term energy needs. Americans will also need a stable source of baseload energy, and the reliability of nuclear energy production and its ability to produce on-demand electricity 24/7 makes it an attractive option for electricity providers. In order to take advantage of this, we’ll have to commit to long-term investments in infrastructure. The construction taking place at Plant Vogtle and V.C. Summer is encouraging to see.

Financially speaking, thanks to little fluctuation in production costs and an average fuel cost that is more economical than many other energy sources, nuclear energy is also an affordable power option that pays off for both the utilities and consumers in the long run.