Op-Ed: An unclear nuclear future
Nuclear power’s contributions to the environment and the climate are well-known. Nuclear energy is far and away the largest source of carbon-free electricity we have in New Jersey — an essential energy resource if the state hopes to achieve its ambitious clean-energy and climate-change goals.
But did you know that New Jersey’s three nuclear plants — located on the Delaware River in Salem County — are a powerful resource for the state’s economy, as well?
According to a new study by the Brattle Group, New Jersey’s nuclear fleet:
- Contributes $1.2 billion every year to New Jersey’s gross domestic product,
- Accounts for more than 4,500 direct and secondary jobs in Salem County, and
- Helps keep electricity prices low, since New Jersey consumers would pay millions more for electricity every year without these plants.
Nuclear power’s impact on New Jersey’s economy is undeniable. With so many businesses facing recession-like losses because of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of people have found that they depend even more on safe, reliable and affordable electricity — especially now that our homes are doing extra duty as offices, classrooms and entertainment venues.
New Jersey’s economy benefits not only from the millions of dollars’ worth of goods and services purchased by these nuclear plants but also from the thousands of skilled workers who support the nuclear fleet. In addition to the 1,600 direct employees of the Salem and Hope Creek nuclear plants, the facilities also hire up to 1,000 contractors with specialized skills during scheduled maintenance and refueling outages, which occur roughly every six months.
The nuclear plants and their workforce create a ripple effect that boosts the rest of the economy — supporting as many as 4,500 jobs in the communities that surround the plants.
And while nuclear is providing all of these benefits — clean energy that doesn’t harm the climate, around-the-clock reliability and thousands of good-paying jobs — nuclear plants also keep New Jersey’s electricity prices low. Without them, electric customers would pay $176 million more for electricity every year than they do today, according to the Brattle Group’s analysis. There are no savings in closing our nuclear plants.
For all of nuclear energy’s positive impacts on New Jersey — clean, climate-friendly electricity that drives the economy and creates thousands of jobs — you would think its future would be secure. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case.
Nuclear plants at risk of closing
Since 2013, seven nuclear plants around the U.S. have shut down for financial reasons. Another dozen are at risk of closing. New Jersey’s nuclear plants aren’t immune from these economic forces. In fact, the financial situation is getting worse because of lower energy prices and other market uncertainties.
Nuclear energy plays an incredibly important role in New Jersey’s electricity supply. Salem and Hope Creek produce nearly 40% of the state’s power, and the vast majority — 90% — of the carbon-free energy generated in the state. If New Jersey’s nuclear plants were allowed to close under financial pressures, the economic and environmental consequences for the state and its population would be costly: Thousands of lost jobs, millions more in higher energy costs, and a $1.2 billion hole in the state’s COVID-19-weakened economy.
What’s more, without nuclear energy it would be nearly impossible for New Jersey to meet its comprehensive greenhouse-gas emission reduction goals by 2050. Instead, we would spend the next decade trying to replace the carbon-free energy that these nuclear plants already provide.
As federal policymakers continue to assess policies and wholesale market reforms that recognize the environmental attributes of nuclear energy, it’s clear New Jersey’s ongoing support for nuclear energy is a wise investment. Our nuclear plants’ continued operation is essential to the success of New Jersey’s environmental and climate policies, while also providing statewide economic benefits.