Groups differ on state nuclear bill

Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 20, 2014 

After six years of service in Columbia Generating Station's reactor, nuclear fuel rods are moved to a holding pool prior to be loaded into steel and concrete storage casks. The fuel still retains 95 percent or more of its energy after six years. Energy Northwest advocates recycling the used fuel to reduce nuclear waste by 96 percent.

Changes need to be made to a bill creating a task force to evaluate the use of nuclear power to replace electricity generated by fossil fuels in Washington, according to Physicians for Social Responsibility.

A representative of Energy Northwest, which is interested in small modular nuclear reactors, and Tom Buchanan, who said he represented the anti-nuclear physician group and Heart of America Northwest, testified at a House hearing Thursday.

The Washington Senate last week passed a bill to create a task force that would hold up to four meetings, with at least two of them in Richland.

Thursday the bill came before the House Technology and Economic Development Committee.

The need for the task force is questionable, given the many years likely before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would be ready to approve a design for a small modular nuclear reactor, Buchanan said.

He is skeptical that the nuclear power industry can design a nuclear plant "that avoids the environmental and economic pitfalls of previous designs," he said.

But there could be some possible value in looking at nuclear power in the state, he said.

The bill should be amended to require the study committee to consider the costs to the state of a worst-case nuclear accident, he said.

It should direct the task force to hold just one public meeting in Richland and the other meetings in Seattle, Spokane and Vancouver, he said.

Buchanan also wants language removed from the bill that indicates a favorable predisposition to nuclear power. The bill says that nuclear power production is a safe source of electricity, in addition to being reliable, cost-effective and carbon-free.

All credible analyses of carbon reduction issues have demonstrated unequivocally that the United States and the world cannot achieve meaningful reductions in carbon emissions without preservation of existing nuclear energy assets and construction of new plants, said Dale Atkinson, Energy Northwest vice president, in remarks submitted to the committee.

Energy Northwest operates the Northwest's only commercial nuclear power plant, the Columbia Generating Station near Richland. It also has an agreement that could lead to it operating a small modular nuclear reactor, likely in Idaho, being developed by NuScale of Oregon. That would make Energy Northwest one of the first industry experts for small modular reactor operation, it said.

In 2009, Energy Northwest studied expanding its nuclear power production as part of long-term planning and concluded that there were too many financial challenges to add more large-scale nuclear power to its energy production portfolio.

But it has been impressed with the technology, particularly that of NuScale, for small modular nuclear reactors, Atkinson said. They take less time to construct and can be scaled up or down to meet demand, he said.

However, there is either misunderstanding or lack of information about the technology and the bill would allow an appropriate dialogue about it, he said.

Letters of support also were submitted by the Nuclear Energy Institute, the Eastern Washington Section of the American Nuclear Society and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union No. 77, according to Energy Northwest.

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

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