International President Lonnie R. Stephenson greets Maria Korsnick, president and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute, before she addressed the International Convention on Wednesday in Chicago.

Nuclear Energy Institute President and CEO Maria Korsnick told the convention Wednesday morning that enthusiasm for nuclear energy as a carbon-free solution to the climate change crisis continues to rise – and that is very good news for IBEW members. 

"It is the key to a carbon free energy future,” Korsnick said, drawing applause from delegates and others at McCormick Place in Chicago. “We need to invest in every carbon-free tool at our disposal to bring these emissions down to zero.

“But make no mistake, nuclear energy isn’t just one of those tools. Nuclear technology is the tool that makes it all possible.”

Nuclear looked to be the electrical source most likely to phased out for most of the last 40 years. Plants across the country were closed due to safety and cost concerns. Other opponents thought their presence took away from investments in solar and wind.

But public officials have re-thought that stance recently. Nuclear has proven to be as clean as other non-fossil fuel sources and more reliable, especially as some communities deal with rolling blackouts.

“It provides our largest source of reliable electricity around the clock every day of the year, rain or shine, and it’s American technology that can foster energy security domestically and for countries around the world,” Korsnick said. “It is technology that can support hundreds of thousands of good paying jobs, many of them union jobs, all across the country.”

Korsnick noted there are now more than 100 pieces of legislation at the state and federal level calling for investments in nuclear. Even West Virginia, where the coal industry has been a dominating force for more than a century, passed into law a bill earlier this year doing away with the state’s longtime prohibition of nuclear power plants.

The Vogtle Electric Generating Plant in Waynesboro, Ga., is scheduled to begin operations later this year. It has employed more than 1,000 IBEW members during construction.

Korsnick thanked the IBEW for its help in convincing Illinois officials to keep three plants in the state open that were scheduled to close, saving hundreds of jobs filled by IBEW members.

International President Lonnie R. Stephenson sits on NEI’s Board of Directors. He and other IBEW leaders have long said the much-needed investments in clean energy require a substantial nuclear presence.

“We don’t talk enough about what makes nuclear itself possible,” Kornisk said. “And that’s all of you. Our industry has a long, fruitful history with organized labor, including with this brotherhood. Generations of electricians, welders, engineers and operators built the current fleet of nuclear reactors.

“This generation, you here today, and young people in training programs starting their careers, are going to build the nuclear fleet of tomorrow.”

NEI surveyed industry leaders regarding projected trends over the next several years, Kornisk said. They expect nuclear will add about 90 gigawatts to the electrical grid by 2050, which would be accomplished by building about 300 modular facilities across the country.

“It’s a level of production that would double the U.S. nuclear output today and make it our largest source of power overall,” she said.

Many of those modular facilities could be built on the site of former fossil fuel plants. Kornisk most workers in those industries have the skills to transfer nuclear facilities.

But she said the IBEW with its skilled labor force will play a major role going forward.

“We need your skills and your experience,” Kornisk said. “We need strong, capable union labor to meet the demand for nuclear labor at home and around the world, and we’re grateful for your partnership.”