WASHINGTON, D.C.—The 40th anniversary of the Clean Air Act underscores the importance of nuclear energy in meeting the nation’s environmental goals. Signed by President Richard Nixon on Dec. 31, 1970, the Clean Air Act has improved the quality of the air in most U.S. cities and communities.
Nuclear energy plants don’t burn anything, so they produce no combustion by-products. Last year, U.S. reactors prevented the emission of 2 million tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2), a precursur of acid rain, and 560,000 tons of nitrogen oxide (NOx), a key component of ground-level ozone and smog. (Put another way, U.S. emissions of SO2 and NOxwould have been 2 million tons and 560,000 tons higher, respectively, if fossil fuels had generated the electricity produced by America’s 104 nuclear power plants.) In comparison, that same year, the U.S. electric sector emitted 5.8 million tons of SO2 and 2 million tons of NOx. In 2009, nuclear plants also prevented the emission of 647 million tons of carbon dioxide and thousands of tons of fine particulates.
Over the 40 years that the Clean Air Act has been in effect, the country’s nuclear plants have avoided the emission of approximately 117 million tons of SO2 and 57 million tons of NOx. To help put this in perspective, 57 million tons of avoided NOx emissions is equivalent to taking all 600 million passenger cars around the world off the road for five years.
“By reducing emissions of carbon and criteria pollutants like SO2 and NOx, nuclear energy has strategic value in any program to improve the environment,” said Richard Myers, NEI’s vice president of policy development. “In fact, the nation’s 104 nuclear plants are its number one source of environmentally-friendly electricity, producing 70 percent of the electricity generated by carbon-free sources.
“With strong bipartisan political support driven by high public favorability and growing recognition of its environmental and energy security benefits, nuclear energy will continue to be very important in achieving the nation’s environmental and energy goals.”