Soaring energy costs are taxing our economy and leaving us dangerously dependent on foreign energy sources. The U.S. Department of Energy projects that our need for electricity will increase 25 percent by 2030.

While global demand increases, worldwide energy supply remains fairly stagnant, unnecessarily restrained by government regulations and prohibitions. In order to reduce the cost of fuel and power and ensure we can meet energy demands into the future, we must increase domestic supply and expand our portfolio of energy options. Now is the time to make nuclear power a greater part of America's energy solution.

Nuclear power is a clean, efficient, domestic source of energy, but it is currently underutilized. From 1950 through the 1970s, there was a surge in U.S. nuclear power, and over 100 reactors were commissioned in 31 states.

However, by the end of the 1970s, construction on nuclear reactors slowed. Federal research and development funding for nuclear technology declined as investors pursued sources of electricity with lower capital and development costs. America began to turn away from nuclear power.

Meanwhile, other nations, like France, began to develop nuclear technology and made it a centerpiece of their energy portfolios. Though the entire country of France is over 50,000 square miles smaller than Texas, it now has 59 of the world's 439 nuclear units.

A whopping 80 percent of its power is nuclear-generated. Japan - roughly half the size of France - has 55 nuclear power plants. Though the U.S. has 104 reactors, a new one has not been constructed since 1977. Nuclear production accounts for a mere 20 percent of the electricity we use.

Fortunately, America is on the verge of a nuclear renaissance - and Texas is poised to play a central role. Our state is on track to build the nation's first nuclear reactors in 30 years with the expansion of the South Texas Project nuclear station in Bay City.

These new reactors will double the existing STP production levels, helping to ensure that Texas' increasing energy demands will be met. Additionally, construction and operation of the units will generate thousands of new jobs in Texas.

Many in Congress believe a goal of 45 new nuclear power plants in the U.S. by 2030 is reasonable. Policymakers from both sides of the aisle, industry leaders, environmentalists, members of the business community, and the ranks of academia are increasingly rallying around nuclear energy as an important part of the solution.

The Nuclear Energy Institute reports that our nation's 104 nuclear plants operate 24/7 and produce power approximately 90 percent of the time. This surpasses the output efficiency levels of all other power sources. Furthermore, nuclear power is low in cost compared to other fuel sources that are used for electricity.

In our present energy crunch, natural gas, which is sensitive to market fluctuations, is significantly more expensive than when it was considered a good substitute for nuclear power. One uranium fuel pellet - smaller than a peanut - yields as much electricity as 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas.

Nuclear power has a proven safety record. U.S. reactors have collectively logged more than 3,000 reactor-years of operating experience, while quietly powering cities and towns across the nation. The U.S. Navy has more than 5,500 reactor-years under its belt.

Our fleet of over 80 nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers has operated accident-free in international waters and has docked in ports across the world for more than 50 years.

It is also one of our cleanest forms of energy. Nuclear power, which emits little or no greenhouse gases, presents a reliable, environmentally-favorable alternative to other sources of fuel.

Nuclear power must play a significant role as America strides toward an energy-efficient and independent future.

Kay Bailey Hutchison is a U.S. Senator for the state of Texas. Readers may contact her via telephone at (210) 340-2885.