For the next three days (May 21-23, 2012), the Nuclear Energy Institute is hosting the annual nuclear industry conference and nuclear supplier expo called The Nuclear Energy Assembly.
The meeting, normally held in Washington, DC, will be at the Westin in Charlotte, North Carolina. Over the past several years, Charlotte has become a significant hub of nuclear energy industry activity, so the NEI apparently decided to reward the city’s support of our industry and to go where the members are gathering.
I was excited to learn that the theme chosen for this year’s gathering is “Setting the Agenda.” I like the forward leaning sound of that phrase. Going on the offensive can be the best defense when you are being attacked with predictable regularity from competitors and misinformed antinuclear activists.
Despite what some antinuclear activists might claim, the nuclear industry is typically quite reticent. It rarely advertises its routine successes and rarely reminds people that uranium produces as much energy for the world’s economy each year as the oil produced by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait combined.
The nuclear industry rarely tells people in the United States that heat from fissioning uranium supports the production of about 800 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity each year. Nuclear generated electricity is a vital product that lubricates 20% of the Gross National Product (GNP) in the United States. It produces direct sales revenue somewhere between $30 billion and $70 billion per year, depending on how you calculate the value of electricity.
Aside: If you do not like me crediting nuclear fission with being a vital lubricant for 20% of the US GNP, name a single GNP component that functions without electricity. End Aside.
The nuclear industry rarely reminds people that nuclear fission produces heat without releasing any greenhouse gases or any other polluting emissions at the power plant. Even when considering all CO2 emissions for the entire lifecycle of the plant construction and fuel supply processes, nuclear fission qualifies as an ultra-low source of CO2 emissions.
Since the 104 nuclear plants that use uranium fission heat to produce electrical power in the United States were built 20-40 years ago and since 50% of the enriched fuel that they use comes from converting Russian weapons material into commercial fuel, the rate of CO2 emissions for US nuclear energy is darned close to 0 grams of CO2/kilowatt hour.
(Most of the life-cycle emissions associated with nuclear energy come from either plant construction or the energy required to enrich natural uranium to a higher concentration of U-235 so that it can work in a light water reactor.)
My personal belief is that it is time for the nuclear industry to recognize that all industries have the responsibility to their stakeholders (customers, employees, suppliers and stockholders) to sell their own story. All industries must tout their own benefits because no one else – especially in a highly competitive industry like energy supply – will tell anyone else how good they are.
I hope that the industry has decided that it is ready to step into full maturity and start acting like the valuable and vital industry that it is by selecting “Setting the Agenda” as its conference theme. I hope it is an indication that the still adolescent nuclear industry has recognized that its traditional supporters in government cannot and will not do the job of establishing nuclear energy as a key pillar of a national energy policy.
We all need clean energy and nearly all of us want that clean energy to be as reliable and as cheap as we have always assumed that electricity should be. Unlike all other alternatives to burning coal, natural gas and oil, nuclear fission proves every day that it can compete with the big boys and do everything they can do – better.
Aside: I purposely qualified my statement above with the word “nearly” because, as irrational as it might sound, there are some people who would prefer for human society to be put on a strict energy diet in order to force us to stop doing so much work to improve our environment. (Energy, after all, is defined as the capacity to do work. If society has fewer energy resources it can do less work.)
If you listen to my recent Atomic Show discussion with Dr. Arjun Makhijani, the author of Carbon Free, Nuclear Free, you will get some insight into the agenda of the people who think that having insufficient energy is a good thing. End Aside.
I am looking forward to meeting up with some regular readers and also meeting with other pro nuclear bloggers and podcasters. There might even be an Atomic Show or two coming out of the meeting.
Follow me on Twitter for the next few days. I’ll be providing as much information as I can about the conference and the talks that I hear. I will be trying to remember to tag each of the posts with #NEA2012. There might be a few posts where I need every one of the 140 characters to make my point, so I may have to leave out the hash tag.