Perry Nuclear Plant in Ohio. Nuclear plants create no emissions of their own; the cooling towers emit only water vapor. Press photo in Will Davis collection.
One of the things that’s important to consider this week – National Clean Energy Week – is whether or not energy sources we depend upon are actually clean.  While we think of solar and wind energy as being pretty clean, we are also reminded that they are not reliable, and they do experience periods of time when they just don’t work.  What we use to fill in that power gap is from sources we can control, independent of weather or time of day. These are sources we call “dispatchable” generating sources, because we can dispatch them and expect they’ll answer the call to provide power.
While hydroelectric is sometimes considered dispatchable, it’s limited in where it can be built.  That leaves prime movers or primary energy sources – and that traditionally is coal-fired or oil-fired steam electric-generating plants, or natural gas-fired combined cycle generating plants, or else nuclear.  If we’re worried about keeping our air clean then we must acknowledge that coal, oil and natural gas all have emissions.  Sure, the emissions from some are worse than others and there are indeed a number of efforts underway to try to cut that down, but only one – nuclear – emits no gases to the environment in the process of generating electricity.
The air is clean and clear above the South Texas Project. Photo courtesy STPNOC.
About 60 percent of the emission-free electric power generated today in the United States comes from nuclear power.  And it isn’t as if everyone isn’t in agreement – organizations from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy all the way to the Union of Concerned Scientists say unequivocally that nuclear energy is low emission,

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