A proven solution for immediate and long-term job creation came from President Barack Obama and his administration earlier this year: investment in U.S. nuclear energy. Bulldozers in Georgia are already on the move and making preparations for expansion of a nuclear plant that has achieved several approvals, and long-awaited jobs in the skilled labor sector could materialize there within months.

I commend the president for moving this agenda forward and was pleased to be personally invited to his speech on nuclear advancements. As Congress debates and passes new employment bills and laws providing small business incentives to help unemployed workers in this economy, let’s not overlook this low-hanging fruit that is ripe for the picking. There are highly skilled workers capable and available to begin these endeavors across the U.S., and similar ones in Canada. And to know that this investment offers the advantages of less-dangerous pollutants in the air, lower costs of electricity, and greater security in national energy—in my opinion, you might as well tie this up with a big red bow.

Jobs First

What would happen if we restarted the nuclear power industry after a lapse of nearly three decades? With the addition of Obama’s nuclear loan guarantee funding in his 2011 budget, we could begin development of seven to 10 new power plants. Include additional funding in future budgets, and you could see the 17 nuclear license applications for 26 reactors—submitted in only the past three years—slide through the bottleneck of securing funds for construction.

Each new plant promises to offer approximately 3,500 long-term, on-site construction jobs and 800 permanent operations jobs. The number of jobs this will provide to the economy is more than significant and possibly unmatched by any one industry. This has the potential for spreading more than 70,000 new jobs across the country. As opposed to what some critics have said about Obama’s first stimulus package, no fine-tooth comb will be required to see where these jobs are created.

This issue has stood up against all public debate too. It is also important to note this is neither a bailout nor direct funding; Obama is budgeting for a loan guarantee. After the loan’s term has been reached, we, the American public, will have been paid back our money in full, with interest. There will be no addition to the deficit, and tens of thousands of jobs will be created in the process. So while the U.S. Department of Energy and other experts are predicting electricity shortages, fossil fuel price increases, global warming, and more harmful emissions, I see cleaner energy, cheaper electricity, and national energy security if we choose to support nuclear power.

Energy Security Sooner

There are more than 100 commercial nuclear power plants in operation within the U.S. today, which produce nearly 20% of the nation’s total electric energy consumption. By building just the number of reactors in the current governmental-approval pipeline (26) over the next five to eight years, we would see our nation’s energy supply increase by 5%.

Some would argue that this is a drop in the bucket, but I believe 5% in five years is an impressive growth rate. Without polluting the air, we could be ensuring the availability of electricity as our economy rebounds.

U.S. Nuclear Energy’s Future

Where will the future of nuclear energy take us? A significant achievement of the U.S. nuclear power industry over the past 20 years has been the increase in operating efficiency as a result of improved maintenance. Generation IV reactors are in development to derive 100 to 300 times more energy yield from the same amount of nuclear fuel. Future reactor designs are promised to eliminate almost all waste. I’ve even heard of new nuclear plants having the potential to run off of old nuclear plant waste.

These innovations should be in the plans for not only new plant developments but also for redeveloping the existing ones. Future administrative budgets should open the guaranteed loans to existing plants, allowing them to continue offering nuclear power long into the future.

I would be remiss if I ignored the issues that need to be addressed if we begin a nuclear renaissance. You would have to agree, however, with our commander-in-chief when he said, “If we fail to invest in the technologies of tomorrow, then we’re going to be importing those technologies instead of exporting them. We will fall behind; jobs will be produced overseas, instead of here in the United States of America.” I, too, am unwilling to accept this future.

What new development or technology didn’t have its problems or opposition in its infancy? New technological advances in nuclear energy will be able to address the needs that remain in this industry. We need to embrace this opportunity for new jobs and energy security now.

Bill Hite (billh@uanet.org) is general president of the United Association of Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the U.S. and Canada.