Pennsylvania today ranks second in the nation for nuclear power generating capacity, owed to a long tradition of nuclear energy leadership and technological innovation. But that great history – and with it, thousands of good-paying jobs – is now at stake.

Currently, two of Pennsylvania's five nuclear plants are scheduled to close prematurely. Last year, Exelon announced that Three Mile Island near Harrisburg will close in 2019. And just recently, FirstEnergy announced plans to close its Beaver Valley Power Station located near Pittsburgh within the next three years. This can be avoided. The owners of these power plants believe there is a need for public policy changes that will allow these critically important assets to continue operating by fairly valuing the many benefits provided by nuclear energy. And we agree.

Combined, Three Mile Island and Beaver Valley directly employ nearly 1,500 Pennsylvanians as well as thousands of building and construction trades workers during refueling outages, like those recently employed at Exelon's Limerick Generating Station in Montgomery County and Talen Energy's Susquehanna Steam Electric Station in Luzerne County. Together, Pennsylvania's five nuclear plants contribute approximately $2 billion to the state economy, are responsible for 16,000 jobs, and contribute $69 million in net state tax revenues annually, which helps fund important community services like schools, roads, and law enforcement.

In addition to powering our economy, nuclear energy also keeps our air cleaner. Pennsylvania's five nuclear power plants produce 93 percent of the commonwealth's carbon-free electricity and help avoid 37 million tons of CO2 emissions per year. Nuclear power is the only clean energy source that can reliably produce large amounts of electricity around the clock.

These statistics reinforce the message our members and supporters of nuclear energy have been consistently communicating: Nuclear power is vital to our state's economic and environmental health. However, the potential loss of two of our state's five nuclear power plants is something Pennsylvania cannot sustain.

We believe this outcome is avoidable as long as policymakers are committed to solving the problem. That's why the members of Boilermakers Local 13 are proud to be part of Nuclear Powers Pennsylvania, a statewide coalition that is working to educate all Pennsylvanians about the economic and environmental benefits of nuclear energy and the industry's positive impact on local communities throughout the Keystone State. These nuclear plants are tremendous assets in many ways – assets we can ill afford to lose.

The challenges facing nuclear power are very real and must be addressed immediately for the sake of Pennsylvania's economy and the thousands of hard-working Pennsylvanians who depend on the nuclear industry for employment. We are very pleased with the recent announcement from the Pennsylvania Nuclear Energy Caucus expressing great concern about the announcement of the premature retirement of Beaver Valley and look forward to working with all members of the General Assembly to advance policies promoting the long-term economic, environmental, and consumer benefits of nuclear power.

Martin Williams Jr. is business manager of Boilermakers Local 13 in Philadelphia and a member of Nuclear Powers Pennsylvania.