Exelon personnel and contractors at the Quad Cities Generating Station perform routine refueling and maintenance on one of two nuclear reactors at the plant along the Mississippi River near Cordova, Ill. An energy subsidy package in the Illinois legislature saved the plant from closing in late 2016. (Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune)

Nuclear power produces 20 percent of electricity consumed in the U.S., and over 30 percent in New York. That's about three quarters of the nation's emission-free generation. Despite successful energy efficiency efforts, our increasingly "wired" economy is projected to grow U.S. electricity demand 22 percent by 2040. At that rate, we need to build 20-25 new nuclear reactors just to keep U.S. nuclear power where it is today.

Five years ago, I joined a group of leading experts on commercial nuclear power to author a study for the Center for Strategic and International Studies called "Restoring U.S. Leadership in Nuclear Energy: A National Security Imperative." At that time, the study observed that economic pressure from low natural gas prices and other factors was leading to a decline in the U.S. commercial nuclear power industry and predicted that it "could be much more rapid than policymakers and stakeholders anticipate."


Unfortunately, that prediction has come to pass. As the commercial nuclear industry pulls back on plans for new reactors and retirements of the existing fleet accelerate, the warning that "our nation is in danger of losing an industry of unique strategic importance and unique promise for addressing the environmental and energy security demands of the future" has become a reality.

An integrated nuclear energy infrastructure is necessary for geo-political relevance for any meaningful country in the 21st century. It is a fundamental strategic national asset, and just like the Pentagon, or the Interstate Highway System, it provides broad-based benefits to the whole country, including domestic energy, grid reliability, support for advanced academic physics and engineering programs, manufacturing, training programs for skilled labor, and providing geo-political influence on global standards for safety, security, operations, emergency response and nonproliferation.

The United States created the commercial nuclear power industry, but the world is no longer waiting for the U.S. to lead. There are currently about 60 nuclear power reactors being built in 14 countries across the globe, most by countries with a less-proven track record on non-proliferation concerns. China is working to double its nuclear fleet, and Russia's Rosatom has orders for dozens of new nuclear plants to be built in India, Bangladesh, Turkey, Vietnam, Iran, Armenia, Hungary, Jordan and Egypt, among others.

We must encourage our nation's policymakers to implement policies that will restore U.S. nuclear leadership, for the benefit of our domestic economy and environment, as well as the security of the world. As the report concludes: "Without a strong commercial presence domestically, America's ability to influence nonproliferation policies and nuclear safety behaviors worldwide is bound to diminish. In this context, federal action to reverse the U.S. nuclear industry's impending decline is a national security imperative. The United States cannot afford to become irrelevant in a new nuclear age."

Mike Wallace, Annapolis

The writer is former co-chairman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies Commission on Nuclear Energy Policy in the United States and former vice chairman and chief operating officer of Constellation Energy Group.

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