Nuclear Energy—A Technology That Must Be Continued

Dr. David Gattie, a University of Georgia engineering professor, recently tweeted, “Nuclear is critical, but the priority must be U.S. national security and ensuring America’s competitive advantage over China and Russia in nuclear science, engineering and technology—not just about climate change.”

As I sit in Warsaw, Poland, just a train ride to the Ukrainian border, Gattie’s security concern takes on an urgent meaning.


In an effort to sanction Russia after the current war began, European countries begin to boycott Russian energy products, including methane gas. This started an ugly chain reaction. The United States liquified natural gas and exported it as fast as we could load the ships, in order to help our NATO allies. This caused a price spike in America impacting just about every state, but especially states like Georgia, that had 50% natural gas-generated electricity. In fact, the $16 surcharge we put on bills in an effort to collect the shortfall was more than total Vogtle Plant capital costs, recently added to rate base. And while prices have stabilized, the war in Ukraine will have lasting impacts.

Tim Echols, vice-chair of the Georgia Public Service Commission, speaks during a panel presentation about nuclear power during an energy conference in Poland in June 2024. Echols talked about how Georgia was able to overcome many challenges to build two new reactors at Plant Vogtle, the first new utility-scale nuclear power units in the U.S. in decades. Source: Tim Echols

While Dr. Gattie is admonishing America to think about what is required and needed to establish and maintain technology superiority, Europe seems to be overly focused on climate change. The EU wants to be climate neutral by 2050—whatever that means.

Each country has their own goals, rules and regs. The European Parliament has layered on more goals, rules and regs as well. It is a Rube Goldberg if I have ever seen it (look it up). And they soon will have “carbon border adjustment mechanism.” and it goes into effect in 2026—imposing import charges on products like steel, cement, and electricity. There is not enough room in this article to explain all of the carbon regulations in place in European Union (EU) member countries.

China is the world leader in new construction of nuclear reactors, bringing nearly as many new units online since 2000 as the rest of the world combined. Source: David Gattie

But at this energy conference I am attending in Poland, we certainly talked about EU challenges. Most see the silver bullet for their climate woes as nuclear. At the moment, only Germany disagrees. The 17 countries gathered here have been inspired by Georgia and the few other successful nuclear plant projects that have come online. The EU has set aggressive renewable energy goals aiming for 42.5%, allowing solar, wind, ocean power, hydropower, biofuels and even biomass to meet the definition.

Tim Echols, shown during his visit to Poland to discuss nuclear power at an energy conference, has been a champion for nuclear and pushed for the completion of the two-unit expansion at Plant Vogtle. Source: Tim Echols

Twelve of the 27 countries have nuclear reactors, with France generating half of the EU’s nuclear output. Nuclear energy, while not considered renewable, is considered as a “strategic technology” due to a recent decision for the sake of their collective decarbonization efforts. This designation, along with painfully high energy bills, has countries like Poland looking at advanced nuclear technologies to get them off fossil fuels and meet climate goals simultaneously.

Poland conducted a nuclear beauty-contest of sorts and chose the Westinghouse technology, what we built in Georgia, for its first large-scale nuclear plant. That is how I got the invitation to the event. Like our state, Poland is about 70% fossil-fueled in its electricity generation, and aspires to phase coal out by 2040. But finishing a nuclear plant even by then could be challenging.

Attendees at a recent energy conference in Poland, including Tim Echols (kneeling at bottom left) of the Georgia Public Service Commission, heard how nuclear power can support energy and climate initiatives. Source: Tim Echols

To complete the two new Vogtle units that came online over the past year, the consortium led by Georgia Power persisted through a verifiable Japanese tsunami decimating the Westinghouse order book, a slip in public opinion about nuclear, a pandemic that required Herculean logistics, and the ultimate bankruptcy of our contractor, Westinghouse. It is amazing we ever finished—a miracle for sure. Despite Georgia’s success, the “Nuclear Renaissance” that many dreamed about for America proves elusive.

A major challenge around nuclear power for many countries is the cost of building new reactors, particularly during periods of economic volatility. Source: Anonymous

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm recently spoke at our ribbon-cutting for Plant Vogtle, and her social media posts in the past have echoed Gattie’s concern: “This [Poland’s] announcement also sends a clear message to Russia: We will not let them weaponize energy any longer. The West will stand together against this unprovoked aggression, while also diversifying energy supply chains and bolstering climate cooperation.”

If we can’t counter and outcompete Russia in civilian nuclear, what chances do we have against our far more formidable strategic competitor like China, which has dominated nuclear reactor construction and deployment since 2000? Sadly, the “Greatest Generation” is about gone, and the dominance that we held in the 20th century is gone too—with Russia and China occupying it in the 21st century, as the graph shows.

As I leave Poland and return to the U.S., I have more questions than answers. Will Europe build nuclear? Whose technology will it be? And what will America do? Will the U.S. create additional incentives that will finally convince other states to follow Georgia’s lead? Can reactors be built on-time and on-budget? Will America continue to develop technology that has made us the greatest country in the world? Only time will tell. No doubt, the next four years will prove whether the U.S. can once again become the leader in nuclear technology that it once was.

Tim Echols is vice-chair of the Georgia Public Service Commission.