There is much today that generates controversy. But nuclear technologies should not be one of them. Humans fear what we do not understand, but hard work by brilliant people has led us to know and harness the atom. It’s been more than 100 years since Madam Curie discovered radium. Consider what has been accomplished since: x-rays, microwaves, nuclear propulsion, nuclear electricity, nuclear medicine and more.

The nuclear industry keeps our nation free, it makes our state productive and our region strong.

Nationally, nuclear medicine provides cutting edge treatment for many maladies including cancer and other disorders. One hundred nuclear facilities in 31 states generate vital “base load” electricity. It is clean, accounts for 64 percent of all our emission-free electricity, and it is cheaper than other sources of power. Nuclear technologies ended World War II, enabled our ships and submarines to bring the Cold War to a peaceful conclusion and continues to provide our National Security today.

Our state is more productive. Nuclear provides tens of thousands of good paying jobs, a significant portion of our states GDP, and a reason major industries find South Carolina attractive. It helps our other industrial sectors – aerospace, automotive, general manufacturing – by providing cheap, reliable electricity. I’ve heard Kevin Marsh, CEO of SCANA, say that nuclear is the most reliable and cheapest electricity on his system. South Carolina’s nuclear power plants supplied 57 percent of the state’s electricity last year, and that has helped drive South Carolina’s industrial electric rates nearly 10 percent below the national average.

The S.C. Department of Commerce promotes our nuclear sector as part of its strategy for a strong, diversified and growing state economy.

Commerce partners with the Economic Development Partnership in our area, NuHub in the central part of our state and many others. They organized a nuclear sector taskforce conference last summer. South Carolina is the only state where the governor has established a formal Nuclear Advisory Panel.

Our region is stronger. We are home to the whole “nuclear ecosystem:” a nuclear experienced work force, technically focused education, nuclear power plants, the Savannah River Site, and many smaller business in support.

I argue that Aiken would not be the place that we enjoy without the SRS. Whether you consider the number of employees, the size of its payroll, the community facilities it has funded or the neighborhood organizations it supports; they all contribute to the Aiken we love. Imagine Aiken without our two colleges, our Center for the Performing Arts, much of the funding and manpower for our civic and charitable organizations. One of every five jobs and one of every four households is SRS related.

SRS provides more than our livelihood. SRS makes the world safer. Our neighbors that work at SRS contribute daily to our national security; whether it be their production of tritium, their leadership to rid the world of proliferable nuclear weapons materials, their expertise in sensitive monitoring or their high-end modeling and computing. They provide us energy security through efforts in hydrogen research, battery research and development and nuclear materials expertise. They have provided energy systems for our intergalactic space probes. Those neighbors are world leaders in environmental remediation.

Our Savannah River National Laboratory is the only national lab rooted in nuclear chemical engineering and with a principle focus on environmental management. In addition, the work at SRS has closed Cold War liquid tanks, processed nuclear materials in chemical separations, cleaned up old decommissioned facilities and provided environmental expertise around the world.

Please seek out and congratulate your neighbors who work or have worked in our nuclear sector.

They do a very important job for our nation, our state and our region. They do it professionally with care and great skill. They do it safely.

Every year, their Occupational Safety and Health Administration safety rate is 10 times better than the U.S. industry average.

Thank them for keeping us free, productive and strong. I am proud that we have them and the SRS in our neighborhood, and I hope you are too.

C. L. Munns is a retired vice admiral in the U.S. Navy, former CEO of Savannah River Nuclear Solutions and chairman of Citizens for Nuclear Awareness.