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An Environmentalist’s Case for Nuclear Energy

If you believe that climate change is the most significant challenge confronting the world today, then you should also conclude that nuclear energy must remain part of our energy supply

Since the 1970s, many have believed that, to be a champion for the environment, a person should also be opposed to nuclear power in all its forms. Many of my generation’s leading environmentalists cut their teeth picketing nuclear plants.

Today, we know much more about nuclear power than we did 40 years ago. We have learned that nuclear energy comes with many benefits — especially in helping combat climate change and reducing the harmful effects of air emissions on public health.

If you believe, as I do, that climate change is the most significant challenge confronting the world today, then you should also conclude — as I have — that nuclear energy must remain part of our energy supply.

Allowing New Jersey’s nuclear plants to close would be an enormous step backward in our efforts to combat climate change.

If New Jersey’s nuclear plants were to shut down, they would mainly be replaced by fossil fuels — in the form of out-of-state coal and new natural-gas generation. The continued operation of the nuclear plants in South Jersey avoids 14 million tons of CO2 emissions per year, and closing the plants would result in a 69 percent increase in New Jersey’s current power-sector carbon emissions. This is the equivalent of adding about 3 million combustion engine cars to New Jersey’s roads — a number that is roughly equal to all of the cars on the road in the state today.

The South Jersey nuclear plants also prevent substantial emissions of SOx, NOx, and particulates. All of these pollutants would increase in the state if the nuclear plants were closed and the electricity they produce were replaced by fossil fuels. These pollutants can affect human health, contributing to asthma and other pulmonary diseases.

Of course, the environmental community must remain committed to its longstanding core principles: encouraging more efficient use of energy, promoting renewable energy resources, and advancing sustainable lifestyles and business practices.

In the future, solar and wind will produce most of the energy we need without harmful emissions. Nuclear energy is, however, fulfilling that clean-energy role today.

If we allow our current nuclear plants to close, it will wipe out all of the environmental benefits from all of the solar and wind energy that New Jersey has invested in to date — and then some. Without nuclear power, it will be impossible for New Jersey to reach the state’s clean-air targets and we will lose ground in our efforts to tackle climate change and reduce pollution that harms public health.

As a congressman, I wrote the landmark Superfund law to clean up the nation’s most polluted sites, and helped to create the Pinelands National Reserve, protecting a pristine source of New Jersey’s drinking water. As governor, I signed the Clean Water Enforcement Act of 1990, one of the strongest state environmental laws of its time.

That lifelong commitment to protecting the environment — and, by extension, our climate and our planet — is why I believe it is critically important that our nuclear plants stay open. Bills being considered before the Assembly and the Senate would do just that. I urge our legislators to support them. Nuclear energy is the backbone of New Jersey’s safe, reliable, and affordable electric grid. More importantly, it provides the energy we need without polluting the air or damaging the climate.

If you want to breathe clean air and believe that climate change is an urgent threat to our future, then I ask that you join me in supporting the preservation of New Jersey’s nuclear industry.

To learn more about New Jersey’s nuclear plants, please visit www.NJNeedsNuclear.com and sign up to stay informed.

James J. Florio is a former New Jersey governor, senior fellow for Public Policy and Administration at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, and founding partner of the law firm of Florio Perrucci Steinhardt & Fader, L.L.C., headquartered in Phillipsburg, NJ.

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