The Importance of Nuclear Energy to Maryland’s Economy, Environment and its Electricity Needs
By Greg Williams, Senior Energy Advisor
On the banks of the Chesapeake Bay near Lusby Maryland in Calvert County, sits our state’s answer to cleaner, greener, carbon free electricity, Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant. Not far from Maryland sits the Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station in York County, Pennsylvania, three miles north of the Maryland border on the Susquehanna River. Both of these power plants feed the local regional power transmission system, PJM Interconnection LLC (PJM), that supplies power to Maryland and 12 other states plus the District of Columbia. Currently these two power plants contribute 32,190 megawatts of energy to PJM members but production can shift during the year. Nuclear power is important to our state, region, environment and our respective economies.
Nuclear power is the largest, most reliable, carbon free source of base load energy (minimum amount of electric power required to meet the grid’s needs) in our country and our state. As of October 31, 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA), there are 58 commercially operating nuclear power plants with 96 nuclear reactors in 29 U.S. states (for a list of all reactor locations, click here). According to the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), nuclear energy generates nearly 20% of our nation’s electricity and provides more than 55% of our emission-free power. As for Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Station, the EIA’s Maryland fact sheet, estimates the facility’s two nuclear reactors produce approximately 34.1% of our state’s electricity and 79.7% of its emission free electricity. The two reactors at Calvert Cliffs produce power around the clock thus guaranteeing that electricity is available whenever it is needed. Other sources of base load electricity generation in Maryland include: natural gas (31.7%) coal (22.9 %) and hydroelectric (6.4 %). Renewable energy, primarily wind and solar, contributes approximately 4.9% of electricity generation in our state yet they are considered intermittent sources of energy meaning that they fluctuate and are less reliable or predictable. This diversity of power resources ensures that our power grid is able to adapt and recover from changing conditions, like extreme weather.
What is the value of nuclear power to our nation and state’s economy? The NEI estimates that these power facilities support some 475,000 jobs, contribute over $10 billion in federal and $2.2 billion in state taxes each year and save consumers an average of six percent on electricity bills; and adds $60 billion to the country’s GDP. In Maryland, Calvert Cliffs contributes approximately $397 million to the state’s GDP, and accounts for about 900 direct jobs with an average salary of almost $56,000 (according to GlassDoor.com) and almost 1,400 in secondary jobs. Nuclear power voids adding 476 million metric tons of CO2 emissions each year, prevents 244,970 short tons of NOX emissions and 217,357 short tons of SO2 emissions. Additionally, it has a valued social cost of $25.1 billion annually.
Opponents of nuclear power believe it is expensive, threatens the public health and safety, and damages the environment. However, evidence shows that nuclear power is a safe and cost effective form of power generation. According to the World Nuclear Association “over six decades shows that nuclear power is a safe means of generating electricity. The risk of accidents in nuclear power plants is low and declining. The consequences of an accident or terrorist attack are minimal …” Moreover, commercial nuclear plants are governed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, an independent government agency, and are built to last between 40 to 80 years. Many of the employees who work at these plants have a background with the nuclear navy. The NEI says that “in over 60 years of commercial nuclear energy production in our country, there has been no radiation related health effects linked to the operation of nuclear energy facilities.” One of the downsides to nuclear power is what to do with the spent fuel commercial reactors produce. Our nation has a scientific and environmentally sound solution to this issue and political solutions are still being sought. The U.S. nuclear energy industry has safely transported used fuel without any harmful release of radioactivity, injuries or environmental damage. In fact, after 7,000 shipments total of used fuel by the worldwide nuclear industry since 1970, there have been no leaks of radioactive material or personal injuries. Click here for more information.
As our country grapples with climate change due to the release of greenhouse gases there are many groups who have shifted their position on nuclear power to one of support. Groups such as The Nature Conservatory, National Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change among a few others. To read their statements of support in favor of nuclear power, you can find them here.
If we are seriously going to confront the dangers of climate change while maintaining the quality of the American lifestyle, nuclear power generation will be needed to help rebuild our economy and restore it as the world’s strongest economy once more. To aid in our recovery, we must maintain the nation’s nuclear capacity and invest in more power plants because the health of our nation’s environment and security depends on nuclear power.
Senior Energy Advisor, Greg Williams is a former employee of the US Department of Energy where he served (2001 – 2009) as the Director of Intergovernmental Affairs in the Office of Congressional Affairs and also as the Director of Federal-State Outreach in their Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management (OCRWM).