Our country is facing an unprecedented crisis. Hospitals are overrun with patients suffering from the swift and sudden impact of COVID-19, compounded by shortages of personal protective equipment and critical ventilators. Grocery stores face significant shortages of essential items.
We cannot allow our country to face an energy shortage.
The country needs reliable power now more than ever — and thankfully, our critical energy infrastructure can meet demand — for now. Our nuclear energy sector is uniquely prepared to ensure America’s homes, grocery stores and medical professionals on the frontlines have the electricity they need to pull us through this crisis.
Nuclear energy can consistently provide critical power day and night, regardless of the weather. That’s the kind of reliability our society needs during times of crisis. Right now, nuclear plants around the country are continuing to provide nearly 20 percent of our electricity — but if we don’t recognize our nuclear power professionals as nothing short of essential, the reliable power we all depend on could be significantly threatened.
Every two years, depending on reactor design, nuclear plants must shut down temporarily to undergo a carefully coordinated, pre-scheduled refueling process to continue generating electricity. This is a very labor-intensive procedure that requires highly trained individuals from outside the plant’s direct vicinity to play a role. This spring, there are nearly three dozen nuclear plants around the United States that either have completed or are planning to start refueling operations soon.
Strict safety measures and extra precautions have been taken during these planned refueling events, including increasing access to safety equipment and instituting social distancing measures. What’s more, at many plants, workers’ body temperatures are being screened upon arrival to limit potential infections, and new measures are being taken to reduce contact between workers and risk of exposure.
Much like a car can’t drive without gas (or electricity), a nuclear plant can’t provide electricity without fuel. That’s why the federal government has deemed nuclear fueling workers essential amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as plants are carefully balancing refueling with preventive measures to protect them.
Like health care workers and grocery store clerks, we should be grateful to the men and women who go to work each day to keep the lights on. Nuclear workers are considered essential employees based on the Department of Homeland Security’s designation of critical infrastructure sectors. Their sacrifice to honor this designation and fulfill their duty amid such trying circumstances should not go unnoticed.
The importance of supporting our critical energy professionals and the infrastructure they operate is not simply a matter of convenience — for patients using a ventilator to breathe, it is a matter of life and death. We’re indebted to so many individuals on the frontlines, including our health care personnel, food service workers and delivery professionals doing their part to keep the country moving at great personal risk.
We owe a great deal of gratitude to our nuclear energy professionals and energy sector workers everywhere who are fighting to ensure our lights stay on. For Americans across this country, our nuclear power professionals hold a lifeline.
We’re living through a scary time. But the reliability of our energy infrastructure and the essential personnel on the frontlines of this crisis give me hope that, together, we will power through.
Judd Gregg is a former senator and governor of New Hampshire, and he is also a member of the Nuclear Matters Advocacy Council.