Not too long ago, nuclear energy was one of New York’s largest energy success stories. Thanks to big investments in the 1960s, nuclear power provided approximately one-third of electricity in the Empire State by 2010, including powering one of the largest metropolitan areas on the planet.
The success is hardly a surprise — the nuclear industry has delivered a basket of benefits for states that invested in it. It’s created higher-paying jobs than other energy sectors, with a median wage of nearly $40 an hour (coal pays almost $29).
It has been the most successful source of clean energy, providing 20 percent of the nation’s power. It’s the most reliable energy source by far. And in spite of its sensationalist image, it’s far safer than any fossil fuel, and slightly safer than wind and solar. When looking exclusively at U.S. nuclear power, it’s in fact far safer than wind and solar.
Leftism Hamstrings Clean Energy for New York
Yet this year saw former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo — before he resigned in disgrace after a bombshell report detailing his years of sexual misconduct — undertake an anti-science war to shut down the largest nuclear plant in his state, Indian Point Power Plant. Cuomo claimed having nuclear energy near New York City defied “basic sanity,” and insisted the plant threatened the safety of 20 million people.
Perhaps even more remarkably, the governor’s office said the emissions-free plant posed a threat to the state’s “environmental health.” His team even launched a press release proclaiming “Environmentalists Laud Governor Cuomo’s Work to Responsibly Shut Down Dangerous Power Plant” in a piece containing not a single positive comment from an extra-governmental environmental group.
To the glee of a small circle of anti-nuclear activists, Cuomo succeeding in shutting the plant down. Despite having just broken the world record for longest continuous electricity generation for a commercial light water plant (751 days), the Indian Point plant was prematurely shuttered on April 30. Nearly one-quarter of New York City’s energy capacity was consequently forced to switch from a clean supply to fossil fuels, hamstringing Cuomo’s own goal of being 50 percent carbon-free statewide within the decade.
The full costs of this blunder will take years to discover, and will likely include lost jobs, spiking emissions, and rising energy prices. Additionally, air pollution will likely grow worse from the inevitable increase in gas plant output — and air pollution already kills some 3,200 New Yorkers per year.
The governor used fear-mongering in the hope of a few scarce plaudits to unleash a monumental environmental gaffe in the name of “environmentalism.” It’s a case study in poor leadership. Fortunately, there is another way, and the Sunshine State is a perfect contrast.
Florida Man Does It Right
Rather than being targeted by Gov. Ron DeSantis, nuclear power is being renewed in Florida and may even be expanded. A look at the state’s four nuclear reactors shows this. The two reactors at the St. Lucie plant are approved to continue powering Florida well into the 2030s and 2040s. The state’s other two reactors, at Turkey Point Nuclear Plant, were also recently approved to continue generation as far as the 2050s.
Florida’s nuclear energy output has now surpassed New York’s for perhaps the first time ever. It will continue to provide nearly 90 percent of the state’s clean electricity, employ nearly 2,000 workers, and provide enough energy to power more than 2.2 million homes. Would any of this have happened if Florida were governed like New York?
The Sunshine State’s situation could well improve even more. Smaller Florida cities like Lakeland are making early plans to potentially become some of the first cities ever to host innovative small modular reactors within the next 15 years. Additionally, state power companies may build two more reactors in the existing plant at Turkey Point, although this is contingent upon the success of the new Vogtle nuclear plant reactors in Georgia.
Florida isn’t alone among Southern states in doubling down on nuclear. Just this June, South Carolina’s Oconee Nuclear Station requested to continue operating until the 2050s. It’s one of 11 nuclear reactors in the Carolinas for which Duke Energy is seeking renewals. Tennessee has confirmed its approval to renew both reactors at its Sequoyah plant. Texas, Louisiana, and Missouri have all received approvals for similar renewals, all within the last seven years.
Powering the Nation
While New York (and unfortunately, California) have chosen to hamstring their own power supplies, Florida and the rest of the South are choosing science-backed nuclear energy over cheap political points. By allowing nuclear power to continue operation, these states are refusing to simply bend to uninformed pressure from the political left.
Ultimately, there’s no reason for nuclear energy to be a red state/blue state issue. With the proper regulation and support, and allowed to operate free of theatrical politics, it can benefit everyone. It’s good for high-paying jobs, national energy security, and the environment.
But as long as some politicians choose to wage war with nuclear energy to appease a tiny base of activists, conservatives should proudly accept their role as those who back truly clean and affordable energy.