THE TRAGIC Sept. 11 attack has provided anti-nuclear ideologues with one more fabricated excuse to ratchet up their campaign against nuclear power, our nation's second largest electricity source.
Eager to engage in "worst-case scenario" speculation, without the slightest nod to the concept of relative risk, they have mischaracterized the state of nuclear plant security and denigrated the highly trained, highly capable men and women who provide it.
These mischaracterizations must stop if our nation is to build a comprehensive, coherent energy policy that wards off brownouts and blackouts, provides reliable electricity supplies at competitive prices, keeps the air clean and promotes U.S. national security.
As a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, I've been visiting nuclear power plants for the past seven years, including a security-focused tour of the Savannah River Site and Plant Vogtle earlier this month.
THESE PLANTS, built with multiple, redundant safety systems, make poor targets for terrorists. Many feet of steel-reinforced concrete surround the plant's vital areas.
Nuclear power plants were among the most secure industrial facilities in the United States before Sept. 11, and they are even safer today. I continue to be impressed with the caliber of nuclear plant security forces. They are heavily armed, well trained and drilled to protect against terrorists.
As important as it is, however, physical security is just one component in the larger picture of energy security. Reliable, affordable electricity is the catalyst for our nation's economy. It improves our quality of life and brings health benefits.
Led by President George W. Bush, congressional colleagues on both sides of the aisle have joined me in advocating a continued key role for nuclear energy. The 103 reactors operating in 31 states provide electricity for one of every five homes and businesses.
The Energy Information Administration estimates the United States will need 50 percent more electric generating capacity between now and 2020.
WITH STABLE FUEL costs, nuclear power provides an important hedge against the fuel price volatility of gas-fired power plants. It's also critical to meeting reduction targets for greenhouse gas emissions. If nuclear power were not used, up to 135 million cars or 79 million light trucks would have to be eliminated to keep U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from increasing.
There simply is no way to have a coherent, forward-looking energy policy without a nuclear energy component. Alternative and experimental renewable sources, such as wind, solar and tidal generating facilities are fascinating alternatives and should be researched. However, as immediate solutions to our energy needs, they fail totally.
The same crowd that objects so loudly to nuclear power also objects to the one renewable resource that has proven to be reliable - hydroelectric power. As radical environmentalists scream to shut down our nuclear plants, they're also clamoring to tear down our dams and drain our lakes. So much for any hint of reasonable compromise.
By default, they raise their real point, which they prefer not to discuss. If we need 50 percent more electricity over the next 20 years, yet shut down a third of our current production by phasing out nuclear and hydroelectric power, we will face an energy disaster that will make the 1973 oil crisis look like a picnic.
THE ONLY PROVEN technology to meet our goals without expanding nuclear and hydroelectric power capacity is through fossil-based fuel technology such as coal, oil and natural gas. The result would be an environmental disaster due to a massive increase in harmful emissions.
Environmentalists' solution? Drastic, society-changing reductions in energy consumption. The end of the private automobile, a shut-down of the suburbs and a massive centralized social engineering project to relocate the bulk of America's population to high-density urban living - supported by public transportation. That or relying on moonlight as our primary means of illumination.
There is a better solution, based on multiple and proven sources of clean power, in which nuclear energy plays a vital role - one that encompasses dynamic research to develop renewable resources, while recognizing that in the interim, people still must keep warm, eat and get to work.
IN THE PROCESS, we'll find that reducing our nation's energy vulnerability to Middle Eastern intrigue will provide far greater national security than a bunker-mentality energy policy based on false fear.
(Editor's note: The writer is a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Georgia.)