NPI director Peddicord makes case for nuclear energy

PeddicordThe continued rise in CO2 emissions has fueled the search for cleaner, greener energy sources to meet the growing energy needs of an increasingly modernized global population. Sources such as wind, solar and geothermal are being increasingly used, but Dr. Kenneth Peddicord, professor in the Department of Nuclear Engineering at Texas A&M University and director of the Nuclear Power Institute (NPI), sees nuclear power as a part of the answer.

Peddicord believes that nuclear energy has characteristics that make it extremely attractive in meeting global energy needs.

“A step in the right direction for both addressing environmental concerns and meeting our nation’s growing energy needs would be achieved through a greater utilization of nuclear energy as a clean and reliable power source,” Peddicord said.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the 440 operating nuclear reactors provide close to 20 percent of the world’s electric energy generation. Renewables such as wind, solar and geothermal combined produce around 7 percent. In the United States, natural gas and coal account for 67 percent of the total energy supply for electricity. By employing sources such as nuclear energy, Peddicord believes we can significantly decrease the 5.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide produced every year in the states for electric power generation.

“Ideally we would use a mix of non-CO2 emitting energy sources to meet our energy needs,” Peddicord said. “Alternatives such as wind and solar are intermittent and relatively expensive.”

According to Peddicord, the expense of alternative energy sources is due to substantial economic subsidies and government policies that require utilities to accept solar and wind generated electricity at an economic penalty to rate payers. New electricity generation needs are being met through natural gas because of its availability and low cost. While natural gas does have reduced emissions compared to coal, it still releases significant amounts of CO2, which could be avoided, with the adoption of cleaner energy sources such as nuclear energy.

Currently nuclear energy facilities require long construction times and significant capital to build. Nuclear energy as an alternative energy option is further inhibited because it does not receive credit for being a CO2 free emitting source. As an energy source, nuclear energy would benefit in an even playing field where the advantages of nuclear power as an around-the-clock, base load electricity producer were recognized in meeting carbon emission goals.

The Nuclear Power Institute is engaged in human resource development for the current nuclear power plants and potential new reactors in Texas. A Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) center headquartered at Texas A&M, NPI is a partnership with industry, teaching institutions at all levels, civic and elected leaders, key stakeholders and government agencies.  NPI has developed programs for students at the undergraduate level in engineering and physics to provide them a background in nuclear power plant technology, helping them to pursue careers in the nuclear industry.  

NPI has also worked with community colleges to establish degrees that prepare students for technician positions at operating nuclear power plants, and with high schools to stimulate interest, excitement and participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), while promoting awareness of the role of nuclear energy to contribute to future energy needs.

“There is increasing interest and demand for sustainable and environmentally friendly electricity sources,” Peddicord said. “Nuclear is the only option that can provide stable, continuous base-load power generation without CO2 emissions. The solutions to our problems are readily available. The challenge is to implement them.”