Nuclear energy is here to stay

Guest Opinion: Arguments about eliminating nuclear from the Northwest energy mix make about as much sense as denying climate change.
The Columbia Generating Station in Richland: cause for controversy

The Columbia Generating Station in Richland: cause for controversy Credit: Northwest Power and Conservation Council

Editor's Note: This guest opinion comes in response to Crosscut's August 20 story about a recent briefing about Seattle City Light's use of nuclear power before the Seattle City Council Energy Committee.

Nuclear energy is here to stay.

Arguments about eliminating nuclear generation from the Northwest, national or world energy mix make about as much sense as arguing that climate change isn’t real or happening. It’s an argument that is 40 years past its prime, if it ever had a prime to begin with.

Nuclear energy safely provides about 19 percent of the country’s electricity — and has been doing so for a long, long time. Columbia Generating Station, located north of Richland, Wash., produces more than eight percent of the energy generated in Washington and accounts for 12 percent of Bonneville Power Administration’s firm energy.

Columbia recently set two records for energy generation: in 2012 and 2013, it’s 28th and 29th years of operation. As a carbon-free source of energy, each year the electricity from Columbia prevents about 4.1 million metric tons of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere, based on the Northwest energy mix.

Energy Northwest employs 1,100 highly skilled professionals, more than 460 of them proud members of organized labor. These are the exact type of family wage jobs state leaders want to attract and maintain here.

On the other side of the discussion, you have folks whose minds were made up sometime in the late 1970s — they don’t like nuclear energy. They ignore facts, deny current climate and economic realities and use inflammatory language to scare people to their side. Hence the constant reference to Hanford. Columbia sits on land leased to us by the Department of Energy. Other than simple geography, there is no connection.

Hanford is defense-related nuclear. We are commercial nuclear energy. Completely different. Unfortunately, even journalists fall for this word trickery.

The discussions about “nuclear waste” similarly confuse. While Hanford’s defense-related waste from plutonium production can take the form of liquid sludge, the used nuclear fuel from commercial energy plants like Columbia remains in solid form. The fuel comes to us as ceramic pellets, contained within zirc-alloy fuel rods. That’s exactly how it leaves the reactor six years later — as a solid.

Long-term storage is in 180-ton steel and concrete dry casks rated against all forms of natural disasters. In short, the environment is protected. In fact, the recently completed NRC environmental impact statement on spent fuel storage, both in pools and dry casks, affirmed their robust ability to mitigate any human or environmental impacts.

While we can all agree that a permanent, national repository is ultimately the best solution for long-term storage of used nuclear fuel, advocating no new nuclear energy development until we get one is nothing more than a red herring designed to end the discussion.

Ascribing the term “watchdog” to the anti-nuclear energy activists bestows on them respectability not earned, based on the record thus far. That they would be provided an opportunity to present their misrepresentations to a duly-elected body — without rebuttal — is an insult to 1,100 hard-working Washington residents and their families; in fact, to anyone interested in the democratic process.

The Crosscut article simply says we “weren’t at the meeting.” It would be more accurate to say we weren’t wanted at the meeting and, after requesting an invite, weren’t invited, likely because pesky facts would get in the way. Our absence led to the unique exchange where the committee chair asked an anti-nuclear activist to explain Energy Northwest and its purpose. Priceless.

The activist didn’t mention that Energy Northwest is a not-for-profit agency created to aggregate the electricity needs and resources of public power utilities, many of which serve sparsely-populated rural areas throughout our state. That would have been awkward, given the committee chair’s previous comments that the meeting was, in part, about placing the interests of people above profits.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Aug 28, 11:02 a.m. Inappropriate

Well, here is a nice PR piece from WPPSS - now known as Northwest Generating Station.

Nuclear Power in Washington State is DEAD. The primary reason is that the POWER IS NOT NEEDED.

Washington is Surplus for at least 50 years. Bonneville doesn't have the transmission capacity to move all the wind power. You firm wind with
new solar, you do not need EXTREMELY EXPENSIVE nuclear.

Cost of new nuclear is HIGH. HUGE. A plant as big as Plant 2 at Hanford would have a CAPITAL cost of $15 Billion.

Break it down into smaller pieces: In total, that's still what it going to cost.

The cost of nuclear as a fuel is reasonable, with one exception: The cost of disposing of the spent fuel rods.

The Trojan nuclear plant has been torn down. The cooling towers dynamited. The spent fuel rods are still on site. Something like 38 casks of used fuel rods.

Trojan offers a case study of why nuclear does not work out so well: When the capital repair cost exceeds the benefits, you close the plant.
This is what happened recently to San Ofre in California. It happened to Trojan.

It is likely to happen to WPPSS Plant 2.

CHANGING THE NAME ON THE PLANT WILL NOT CHANGE THE CHEMISTRY OF THE NUCLEAR PROCESS.

Ross Kane
Warm Beach

Ross

Posted Thu, Aug 28, 12:47 p.m. Inappropriate

"power not needed" Indeed!!!!

So you think heating the state with natural gas and moving it with petrol as we do today, is going to save us from the rapidly advancing AGW precipice? I'd say a review of grade school science would help a lot in making you a responsible citizen.

"$15 Billion"

Actually the first of a kind VC Summer Plant is twice the size as CGS and is costing less than $10B twice the cost of building the same unit in high wage Korea.

Perhaps a review of Grade school arithmetic might help?

sethdayal

Posted Thu, Aug 28, 3:49 p.m. Inappropriate

No. There is no need to use coal or petroleum. Stick with electric.
We have enough wind. There is at present a SURPLUS of wind power. What we need is more transmission capacity.

Comparing CNG costs to nuclear is totally specious: A straw man for the Nuclear people to knock down.

You are quick with the sarcasm, but you do not have a grasp of the facts in Washington State.

Ross Kane

Ross

Posted Fri, Aug 29, 1:24 p.m. Inappropriate

"We have enough wind."

At what time of day, and on which day, are you referencing?

GB101

Posted Wed, Sep 3, 2:55 a.m. Inappropriate

www.sacensolde.com

laoxia

Posted Thu, Aug 28, 11:03 a.m. Inappropriate

What Germany and other European countries are doing with renewable sources of energy tells me considerably more than what some nuclear energy flack tells me.

ivan

Posted Thu, Aug 28, 12:51 p.m. Inappropriate

Yup Germany - now totally dependent on a tyrant for its filthy GHG spewing worse than coal gas, has increased its GHG's three years in a row without accounting for the methane leaks from the Russian gas, while doubling its power rates to the worst in Europe at the same time.

France went from near zero to 75% nuke in a little over ten years a few decades ago while Germany jokes about doing the same in 50 years with wind and solar. Greenie warming deniers reject the real science that tells we have only a few years to use nuclear to prevent a AGW disaster killing billions, while embracing Big Oils junk science telling us we can afford to wait 50 years for wind and solar to do the trick condoning the deaths of 100 million folks from air pollution while we wait as a reasonable sacrifice in their demented search for more poetic power from cool breezes and warm sunbeams.

sethdayal

Posted Thu, Aug 28, 11:59 a.m. Inappropriate

Why should we continue to build out nuclear power, with all its problems, when wind energy is cheaper in the long run.

Wind is somewhat fickle, so it is necessary to supplement it with something that can generate energy on demand. There's an easy way to do that: use pumped storage. During times of excess power generation, pump water uphill (into a reservoir or into the upper part of a mine) and let it flow downhill to generate electricity.

The cost to build wind generation, including pumped storage is a little more expensive than building nukes. However, the operating cost is hugely lower, resulting in a lower overall cost in only a few years.

pragmatic

Posted Sat, Aug 30, 11:53 a.m. Inappropriate

Pumped storage isn't as easy as you think. I live in Vermont, and there is a major pumped storage facility on the Connecticut River, just downstream of us in Massachusetts. This facility is basically death on fish. Here's a local environmentalist and writer, Karl Meyer, writing about the pumped storage station:

http://vtdigger.org/2012/01/17/meyer-its-about-the-river-and-the-fish/

He notes that when the pumped storage facility was down for repairs, the shad run rebounded. Here's a brief quote: "At least half of all shad passing Holyoke eventually attempt to pass Turners Falls — 95 percent get deflected into the meat-grinder of currents and turbines of the Turners Falls power canal, never to emerge."

IMHO, Washington State, the home of wonderful fish, should not even consider pumped storage on the Columbia or any of its tributaries. You will need something else to back up those wind turbines. You will probably use natural gas.

I acknowledge I am pro-nuclear, but in this case, I just want to point out the ecological consequences of pumped storage on major rivers. For these kinds of reasons, local people often prevent pumped storage facilities from being built.

mjangwin

Posted Thu, Aug 28, 12:56 p.m. Inappropriate

Actually the most feed in tariff in Europe and in Ontario show the levelized cost of wind power at 12 cents a kwh.

CGS and new nuke builds by public power are coming in at 4 cents.

The cost of pumped hydro to cover for frequent mid winter weeks long wind droughts in the PNW would add a buck a kwh to the average citizens bill.

sethdayal

Posted Thu, Aug 28, 6:16 p.m. Inappropriate

Hanford is defense-related nuclear. We are commercial nuclear energy.

Talk about spin-speak. Fission products that make up nuclear waste come both from the defense and commercial side. Even the conservative US EPA says nuclear waste must be isolated from the environment for a million years which is a scientific impossibility. The inconvenient truth is that Hanford is so polluted, it will never be cleaned up. The US government spends billions of dollars a year on Hanford and it isn't anywhere near being cleaned up. It's a shameful blight for the Evergreen State. On the commercial side, each nuclear reactor creates 30 metric tons of highly radioactive waste per year. There is nowhere to safely store it. There is no guarantee that dry casks will not have problems either immediately or down the road and spent fuel is radioactive for thousands of years.

What we need is to increase our investment in renewables, wind, solar, geothermal. And Washington borders the ocean so wave energy is another potential. With all of these things combined, there would be a surplus of energy. We could build the products here and industry can maintain them. Plenty of jobs.

What nuclear has taught us is that its greatest liability is human fallibility. Chernobyl and Fukushima have forever contaminated large portions of land, and to make matters worse, Fukushima has been dumping several hundred tons of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean nonstop EVERY DAY since 2011 with no end in sight and the Pacific is beginning to die. We can't afford nuclear power, financially, or environmentally. And human health will continue to deteriorate when we add more and more radioactive elements to the environment. Renewables are the wave of the future and won't strap our grand kids with a nuclear waste legacy.

markus

Posted Fri, Aug 29, 8:30 a.m. Inappropriate

As soon as you and your nuke loving buddies clean up Fukushima, then talk to me about how "safe" it is.

Those are GE reactors that are still totally out of control and melting into the ground, right?

Right?

I don't hear you now...sup?

Posted Fri, Aug 29, 1:20 p.m. Inappropriate

That argument makes as much sense as saying commercial aviation isn't safe because one plane crashes. (better close Boeing!)
"A volcano erupts in Iceland, better permanently evacuate Seattle because there's one near there too."
"A tsunami in japan killed 20,000 people, better permanently evacuate the Oregon coast cause they could have one too."
I know it's the internet, but please try to put some thought into the comments, ok?

GB101

Posted Sat, Aug 30, 10:05 p.m. Inappropriate

You might want to do the same.

Posted Mon, Sep 1, 3:21 p.m. Inappropriate

For a "cynic" you have much to learn about satire.

GB101

Posted Wed, Sep 3, 2:37 a.m. Inappropriate

www.sacensolde.com may good!

laoxia

Posted Wed, Sep 3, 11:30 a.m. Inappropriate

Reality is calling: Fission is in permanent decline, like coal. These arguments for building new fission plants, of any type, are the last gasps of a special interest dependance on government support in decline.

Even if everything was "practical" tech and financial wise, the money and time that would be spent far exeeds the money and time required to fully develop geothermal (best for heating in the NW), and solar. Wind is already established, solar not far behind, and what is lacking is full scale deployment of utility grade batteries to store the excess and even the load.

Marksp

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