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The United States Must Pursue Greater Nuclear Energy Power Generation

  • Published
  • By Cadet Rys S. Halverson

For years, scientists have warned us that the world must pursue net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. This effort must be global, with countries like China and Brazil participating. However, before the United States can compel other nations to make a good-faith effort to decarbonize by 2050, we must lead by example by first taking our own steps to decarbonize at home. In order to decrease our reliance on fossil fuels at home, the United States should pursue greater use of nuclear energy, while also taking steps to help communities that will be hardest hit by the loss of fossil fuel jobs.

The United States’ reliance on fossil fuels leads to a vital risk to its national interests. Climate change poses risks. Climate change increases particulate matter air pollution. This leads to negative effects on our health such as diminished lung function, increased hospital admissions for asthma, and an increase in premature death. The U.S. Center for Disease Control estimates that these health effects will lead to 1000 – 4300 additional pre-mature deaths nationally per year by 2050 if no additional regulatory controls are made on carbon emissions.[1] Globally, the WHO predicts an additional annual death rate of 250,000 people between 2030 and 2050.[2] Climate Change is currently making the western United States unlivable. Many in western states are moving east as wildfires rage with increasing frequency.

Our reliance on fossil fuels also challenges our economic security. Rising hospitalizations due to our dirtier air will lead to higher healthcare costs, placing a strain on Americans’ wallets. Crop failures, coastal cities dealing with rising sea levels, and an increased level of natural disasters are just some of the factors that will damage our economic output, costing the United States up to 10.5 percent of its GDP by 2100.[3] Dependency on fossil fuels is a threat to our national and economic security and warrants a response.

Nuclear power is one alternative to fossil fuels that will provide the United States with more security. Nuclear power currently provides 20 percent of the United States’ power output, and it produces little to no greenhouse gas emissions.[4] With advancements in nuclear reactor technology, it has the potential to produce much more energy in a more efficient manner. One of the greatest potentials for nuclear energy is the advancement of small transportable reactors.[5] These small, portable reactors give nuclear energy the potential to provide energy for remote rural communities. The United States should not only rely upon nuclear energy to decarbonize our economy, renewable energy like solar should play a large role as well. However, we must consider that renewable energy like solar has a variable output of power based on the time of day and the weather. This does not mean solar energy is undesirable, it is still a cheap, carbon-free source of energy, but it does mean that another form of energy such as nuclear will be needed to fill any gaps as we transition away from fossil fuels. Greater funding for nuclear reactors and nuclear energy research will be necessary as we move forward in tackling climate change.

Using nuclear energy to help fight climate change is feasible, but it will also be necessary to address the downsides of transitioning to nuclear energy. One of the major downsides of transitioning to nuclear energy is the fact that many states in the United States, such as West Virginia, depend on fossil fuels for their economy. In West Virginia, not only is coal mining a large part of the economy, it also employs 11,418 workers in the state with high-paying jobs.[6] Any proposal to transition away from fossil fuels will need to include a plan to replace economic output in places like this, as well as replace the high-paying jobs that will be lost.

One immediate step the government could take is to move federal jobs out of D.C. and into areas that are hardest hit by the decarbonization of the economy.[7] Plenty of government agencies and departments such as the FBI contain high-paying federal jobs. Thanks to new technology like zoom, these jobs no longer need to be physically close to our center of government and can be moved to states like West Virginia. This alone will not be enough. A proposal to transition to nuclear and other renewable energies will also need to include government-funded job training and college for fossil fuel workers who lose their jobs. Funding for this could come from a carbon tax that is imposed to speed up the transition away from fossil fuels. If transportable, small reactors are built in areas hit by job losses, priority for hiring workers needed to build the necessary infrastructure should be given to these former fossil fuel workers.

Another issue that will need to be addressed to make greater prioritization of nuclear energy acceptable will be the perceived dangers of nuclear energy. Chernobyl and Fukushima have given nuclear energy a bad reputation. These were large disasters that caught the attention of the media. However Chernobyl resulted from a communist government with poor safety standards in its reactor workplaces, and Fukushima resulted from a Tsunami. Data on the safety of nuclear energy paints a different picture than these two well-known disasters. Although premature deaths from air pollution does not capture media attention like nuclear meltdowns, air pollution from fossil fuels is by far the bigger killer than nuclear energy. Studies have compiled the deaths caused by different forms of energy production; organizing this data into deaths per terawatt-hour of energy gives a striking conclusion. Nuclear energy results in 99.7 percent fewer deaths than coal, and 97.5 percent fewer deaths than gas.[8] After the Fukushima disaster, Germany began transitioning away from nuclear energy and toward coal. This decision has cost Germany an estimated 1100 additional deaths per year. Nuclear energy is far safer than fossil fuels. The only form of energy that causes fewer deaths than nuclear energy is renewable energy like wind and solar. When the downsides are addressed, nuclear energy becomes an attractive option for our transition to a net-zero carbon economy.

Renewable energy and nuclear energy will be needed to transition away from fossil fuels in time to avoid the worst challenges to our national security. Nuclear energy is often ignored and forgotten in this debate, and a large reason for this is due to the public fear of nuclear energy. However nuclear energy is safe and will play an important role in our transition away from fossil fuels. As we move forward, we need to prioritize greater use of nuclear energy in order to protect our national interests.

Cadet Rys S. Halverson
Cadet Halverson is a sophomore at the Air Force Academy. He was previously enlisted as a Cyberspace Operations Airman. He is studying Behavioral Science. He is interested in serving as an Information Operator or Pilot. 


[1.] “Air Pollution.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, December 21, 2020.

[2.] “Climate change and health.” World Health Organization, October 30, 2021.

[3.] Andrew Freedman, “Climate change could cost the U.S. up to 10.5 percent of its GDP by 2100, study finds.” Washington Post, August 19, 2019.

[4.] “Nuclear.” Department Of Energy, Accessed June 11, 2022.

[5.] Nicole Jawerth, “What is the Clean Energy Transition and How Does Nuclear Power Fit In?” International Atomic Energy Agency, September, 2020.

[6.] M. Garside, “Coal-mining employment in West Virginia from 2010 to 2020, by mine type.” Statista, May 6, 2022.

[7.] Alan Berube, “Moving federal jobs out of Washington could work, if it’s done correctly.” Brookings, November 12, 2019.

[8.] Hannah Ritchie, and Max Roser, “Nuclear Energy.” Our World in Data, Accessed June 11 2022.


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