Past time for an energy reality check
Last updated 2/21/2023 at 12:06pm
If we are to meet our soaring demand for electricity and produce it without coal and natural gas, we must double down on nuclear power.
Today, U.S. nuclear plants generated enough electricity to power more than 70 million homes. It’s the most reliable source of electricity operating at full capacity over 90 percent of the time. It is “greenhouse gas” free, yet many activists are pushing to close, not build, nuclear power plants.
If President Biden and Gov. Inslee continue to push to outlaw gas and diesel vehicles and ban natural gas in restaurants, homes, and buildings, we must rapidly replace that electricity. Now, is the time to look to the U.S. Navy for its nuclear expertise.
Washington is the perfect place to develop advanced nuclear power technology. The Navy’s Bremerton shipyard and Bangor submarine base are already equipped to overhaul nuclear-powered vessels. People working there are highly trained and experienced in nuclear technology.
Nuclear energy has been part of the U.S. Navy since 1954 when USS Nautilus was launched as the world’s first operational nuclear-powered submarine. Today’s Navy runs on nuclear power and thousands of sailors safely work on board ships all over the world within a few feet of nuclear reactors.
Development is already underway on advanced small modular nuclear reactors (SMR) at Oregon State University. SMRs take up one percent of the space of a conventional reactor and each one produces 60 megawatts of power. When stacked together, the 12 would perform as one.
Subsequently, it has been spun out to NuScale. To make the reactors safer, Jose Reyes, a nuclear engineer and co-founder of NuScale, told Science Magazine, they have simplified the design and made them impervious to melt down. The first SMR is expected to be operational this year at the Idaho National Lab near Idaho Falls.
In Wyoming state officials are working with TerraPower founder Bill Gates to covert the Rocky Mountain Power coal plant to the first sodium-cooled advanced nuclear reactor. The power generator and transmission facilities remain in place.
Our state also has the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. While today’s primary mission is nuclear waste treatment and cleanup, work on smaller reactors occurs there. Hanford, with its vast energy infrastructure and talented workforce, is an ideal place to develop and install new technology.
Currently, our state’s only nuclear power plant, the Columbia River Generating Station is located at Hanford. It produces 10 percent of the electricity generated in Washington State.
Nuclear power plants generate massive amounts of electricity on a small land footprint. Available land will grow increasingly scarce. For example, the Columbia Generating Station encompasses 1,100 acres. By contrast Washington’s 1,725 wind turbines need 1.5 acres each or roughly 26,000 acres, according to National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
There also are mounting concerns over building vast wind farms. For example, in the northeastern U.S. there is growing resistance to massive offshore wind towers planned for the Atlantic Ocean near Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard. Those towers require mammoth foundations dug deep into acres of undisturbed seabeds which disrupts aquatic life.
Today, our elected officials are fixated with tearing down coal-fired plants and replacing them with solar and wind farms. But that isn’t practical because when there is no wind or sunlight, nuclear and hydro are the reliable alternatives.
Washington has an abundance of hydropower; however, in many parts of our nation electricity from coal or natural gas fired power plants are primary reliable sources. They are needed in severe cold weather such as occurred this week over most of the nation.
While nuclear power may not be popular, it is essential. That’s reality!
— Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He can be contacted at [email protected]