Energy Northwest joins nuclear initiative

Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldJuly 1, 2013 

Energy Northwest has joined an initiative to bring a demonstration of small modular nuclear power to the West.

It would have the first right to operate such a reactor if NuScale Power is successful in its application to the Department of Energy for funding.

Now Oregon-based NuScale is considering a small modular reactor demonstration at the Idaho National Laboratory by 2024.

However, the Tri-City Development Council continues to push to bring a NuScale or other small modular reactor to the Tri-Cities, where infrastructure already is in place for two full-size commercial nuclear reactors that were not built. That could save $50 million, said Gary Petersen, TRIDEC vice president of Hanford programs.

DOE could use a small modular reactor to supply the Hanford vitrification plant with the 70 megawatts of electrical power it will need when it starts treating radioactive waste left from the past production of weapons plutonium, according to TRIDEC. DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory also could require nearly 30 megawatts of electricity within a decade.

If the project goes forward in Idaho instead, it still could lead to applications in Washington.

It could give Energy Northwest expertise that could be used to operate a small reactor in Washington, and preferably in the Tri-Cities, when such a reactor is needed, said Energy Northwest spokesman Mike Paoli.

NuScale announced its launch of a broad, multistate initiative Monday for an initial demonstration project that would be followed by a potential series of projects in other western states.

"NuScale's SMR technology will provide reliable, affordable and carbon-free energy within the next 10 to 15 years," said Dale Atkinson, Energy Northwest vice president, in a statement.

The project would give Energy Northwest the opportunity to assess potential future contributions it could provide to the Washington state energy mix, including helping to integrate with renewable energy sources, he said.

Energy Northwest spent two years studying small modular reactor technologies before endorsing NuScale's design in 2011. It picked NuScale because of benefits in safety, cost-effectiveness and ease of operation, according to Energy Northwest.

NuScale and its partners, which include Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, are proposing a six- to 12-module facility that would generate between 270 and 540 megawatts of electricity.

Energy Northwest already operates the Northwest's only commercial nuclear power plant, the Columbia Generating Station, which generates 1,170 megawatts of electricity, about enough to power a city the size of Seattle.

"In an era in the Northwest of slow-growing electricity demand, small modular reactor technology offers utilities and consumers the opportunity to invest incrementally, on an as-needed, basis, in clean, cost-effective power," said Mark Reddemann, Energy Northwest chief executive, in a letter to DOE.

The letter asked DOE to strongly consider NuScale's application for matching development funds from a program designed to help bring small modular reactors to market in the United States.

NuScale power modules are designed to each produce 45 megawatts of electricity, with each model having its own containment and reactor vessel and its own turbine-generator set. The reactors are cooled by natural circulation and can be shut down safely without pumps or other mechanical systems, according to NuScale.

Fluor Corp. is the majority investor in NuScale.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews

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