The Washington Senate wants the state Department of Commerce to begin looking for potential manufacturing sites for small modular reactors.
By a 27-to-21 vote Friday, the Senate sent a bill to the House that would have the department find places to build and ship small modular reactors. Also Friday, the Senate voted 44-to-5 in favor of establishing voluntary nuclear education programs in schools.
Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, sponsored both bills.
The Legislature is exploring whether nuclear power should be a component of Gov. Jay Inslee's push to trim the state's carbon emissions and combat global warming. Inslee has cited climate-change problems for Washington's shellfish industry, residents' health, snowpack and irrigation.
Republican legislators generally don't like Inslee's plans to cut emissions from smokestack industries, contending such effort would also kill jobs. But the GOP has helped push examination of nuclear power as a potential non-polluting source of electricity.
Tri-Cities leaders want a Boeing-style assembly plant to build small modular reactors. This is a long-range plan in its infancy and is predicted to take roughly a decade to develop if given a green light.
Small modular reactors are prefab reactors whose parts are manufactured in one location, and then transported to the reactor site for final assembly. A modular segment would be a mini-reactor of 50 to 300 megawatts. Small modular reactors are supposed to be designed so extra modules can be added as needed. This concept is still on the drawing board.
Energy Northwest (a consortium of Washington public utilities, including Seattle City Light), the NuScale company of Corvallis, Oregon, and the U.S. Department of Energy site at Idaho Falls have agreed to build a prototype in Idaho by 2024. Tri-Cities interests hope to attract mass production to a half-built, never-finished Energy Northwest reactor site at the Hanford reservation.
Sen. Brown said that Oregon, Idaho and Utah are talking about small modular reactors. “Where is Washington state in these discussions?” she continued. “We have the human capital. We have the ability."
Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, countered that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has not approved any small modular reactor designs yet. And he noted that the nation has not nailed down where to put used nuclear fuel from its more than 100 commercial reactors, plus from Hanford's defunct plutonium reactors. "Yes,” McCoy said, “it is carbon-free. ... But when you burn it, you're creating wastes."
Brown's second bill would create an education program aimed at providing nuclear science lessons to students in the eighth through 12th grades. Under this program, qualified American Nuclear Society members would be brought in for classroom sessions. Also science teachers would receive instruction on nuclear science in order to teach the subject in the classrooms. School participation would be optional. Washington State University would be in charge of the overall program, which would be financed by a yet-to-be-determined mix of state and private money.
In supporting the nuclear education measure, Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, said she usually has concerns about nuclear-related efforts. But, pointing to the importance of nuclear science for the state, she noted that the Kitsap Peninsula is home to nuclear submarines and the state is watch dogging a huge clean-up of radioactive waste at Hanford.
Originally posted March 6 at 5:11 p.m.