Earth Day began in 1970 as a “teach-in” to educate communities about the importance of the environment. Like Earth Day, what would become the nuclear fleet for Duke Energy was just emerging. While the connection between Earth Day and Duke Energy’s fleet wasn’t obvious at the time, both have benefitted the environment for decades.
Normally, during Earth Day our employees would be active in the community with service projects, volunteerism and educational activities. However, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing precautions has prevented what was a normal course of business. What hasn’t changed is the business of clean power generation, which goes on at all six of our nuclear sites.
Nuclear is a part of other clean energy sources—hydropower, geothermal, wind and solar— that work together to reduce greenhouse gases in our atmosphere and improve the air we breathe. However, unlike those sources, nuclear energy produces more carbon-free electricity than all other sources combined, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Although only 10 percent of the world’s electricity is generated by nuclear energy, the majority of America’s clean energy comes from nuclear generation, making it critical to reducing carbon emissions. At 56 percent, no other source, renewable or otherwise, contributes as much to meeting U.S. energy demand without carbon emissions as nuclear energy. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, the U.S. nuclear fleet saves our atmosphere nearly 506 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions; the equivalent of removing 110 million passenger vehicles from roadways.
Duke Energy has announced its commitment to the environment with the goal of cutting CO2 emissions in half by 2030 and striving for net-zero emissions by 2050. A central part of that strategy is the continued operation of carbon-free sources of electricity, including nuclear energy. The first stage is renewing the licenses for all six nuclear sites, where they can continue to save the environment a collective 54 million tons of CO2 emissions each year.
Beyond existing nuclear, Duke Energy joined an advisory group for TerraPower and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy’s Natrium reactor, which was one of two designs to receive funding through the Department of Energy’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program. This partnership is one of the examples of the innovative spirit of nuclear energy and may be a crucial piece of the puzzle for expanding nuclear generation into the latter part of the century and beyond.
Although there might not be many visible celebrations of nuclear energy at this year’s Earth Day, behind the scenes the nuclear plants that produce the most carbon-free electricity will be a celebration of environmentalism for past, present and future.