This week’s “Daily Journal” guest columnist is Jenna Ashley Robinson, outreach coordinator for the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

North Carolina’s Climate Action Plan Advisory Group and the Legislative Commission on Climate Change have made sustainable energy a priority this legislative session. A proposed “Renewable Portfolio Standard” (RPS) demands that 7.5 percent of North Carolina’s energy come from “new renewables” – solar, wind, and biomass. Nuclear power, although it is both renewable and clean, is not included in the proposed legislation.

By 2030, the South Atlantic Grid, which includes North Carolina, will require 22.530 quadrillion BTU’s of electricity per year, a 26 percent increase over current energy production levels. The International Energy Agency projects that, even with continued subsidy and research support, these new renewables can provide only 6 percent of world electricity by 2030. They are expensive, inefficient, and unreliable.

Nuclear power – like wind, hydro, and solar energy – can generate electricity with no carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gas emissions, which should please the global warming alarmists at the Division of Environment and Natural Resources and in the General Assembly.

The critical difference between nuclear energy and other so-called “renewables” is that nuclear energy is the only proven option with the capacity to produce vastly expanded supplies of clean electricity on a global scale. The great advantage of nuclear power lies in the vast amount of energy that can be extracted from a mere handful of the element uranium, which is found in great concentrations underground.

Nuclear energy is economical and reliable. Nuclear energy is our nation’s largest source of emission-free electricity and our third-largest source of power. The 103 U.S. nuclear units supply about 20 percent of the electricity produced in this country. Nuclear power plants are designed to operate continuously for long periods of time. Nuclear energy is, in many places, competitive with fossil fuel for electricity generation, despite relatively high capital costs and the need to internalize all waste disposal and decommissioning costs.

An OECD/NEW study on Nuclear Power in Competitive Electricity Markets, published in 2000, found that nuclear power plants in Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, the United States, and the United Kingdom had been competitive in their respective deregulated markets.

Today, nuclear power plants have a superb safety record – both for plant workers and for the public. The waste from nuclear power has a tiny volume and can be stored safely underground while its radioactivity decays to natural levels. Due to effective shielding and containment, waste from civil nuclear power never has caused harm to any person or to the environment.

Far from being an “unsolvable” problem, waste disposal is a comparative asset of nuclear energy – because there is so little. According to the World Nuclear Association, “The spent fuel produced yearly from all the world’s reactors would fit inside a two-story structure built on a basketball court.”

Many North Carolina residents and businesses are already using nuclear power. Nuclear power generation contributes about 35 percent of the electricity used by Progress Energy customers and 47 percent of the electricity used by Duke Energy customers. Overall, 30.8 percent of power generated in North Carolina is nuclear. Instead of concentrating on so-called “green energy,” the General Assembly should make it easier for energy companies to pursue nuclear energy in the future.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is taking steps to streamline the licensing process for new plant construction. Shearon Harris, one of Progress Energy’s two nuclear facilities in North Carolina, recently applied to have its license extended for another 20 years past its original license agreement – until 2046.

Most recently, the Bush administration launched the Nuclear Power 2010 Initiative aimed at ensuring affordable, reliable, and clean sources of nuclear energy for America. This $1.1 billion partnership between the government and industry will facilitate the construction of new nuclear energy plants.

With ill-conceived taxes and plans for renewable energy, North Carolina lawmakers have already demonstrated their ineptitude at leading. On the issue of nuclear energy they now have two options: follow or get out of the way.