Support for nuclear power in the United States will rebound to levels seen before the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, predicted Mark Reddemann, chief executive of Energy Northwest.
He was the keynote speaker for the Tri-City Development Council's annual meeting Tuesday in Pasco. Energy Northwest's nuclear power plant near Richland supplies enough power for1 million homes or about 6.3 percent of the state's power.
In Energy Northwest's most recent poll -- conducted well before the problems with the Japanese nuclear reactors -- about 65 percent of those polled statewide would support a new nuclear plant, with support climbing to 77 percent in the Mid-Columbia.
Energy Northwest is studying the possibility of adding small modular reactors, which would allow generation capacity to be added in increments to match growth, he said.
Energy Northwest continues to assure the public that it is prepared for a natural disaster at its plant.
The plant was required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to be built to withstand a nearby earthquake of magnitude 6.9, but was built with additional margin that should allow it to withstand a magnitude 8 or larger earthquake, he said.
About once a year Hanford has a magnitude 3 earthquake, but the largest since records were kept has been a magnitude 3.8 earthquake in 1973, said Alan Rohay, a Pacific Northwest National Laboratory researcher. It occurred on the horn of the Columbia River and would have been felt in southern Hanford but would not have had an effect, he said.
A large quake -- magnitude 7 -- might be expected at Hanford every 5,000 to 10,000 years, he said.
The Columbia Generating Station sits on leased land on the Hanford nuclear reservation and is unrelated to the site's previous role in producing plutonium for the nation's nuclear weapons program.
The Japanese reactors are believed to have withstood the magnitude 9 earthquake last week, but their emergency diesel generators were flooded by the tsunami, Reddemann said.
The plant's walls were built to withstand waves shorter than 21 feet, but it was hit with higher waves, he said.
The Columbia Generating Station near the Columbia River was built to withstand floods caused by the loss of dams upstream, including the Grand Coulee Dam, he said.
Energy Northwest will be closely looking at what lessons are learned in Japan and applying any that can improve the Columbia Generating Station's multiple safety and backup systems, he said.
In Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Energy Secretary Steven Chu told a House subcommittee that Americans "should have full confidence that the United States has rigorous safety regulations in place to ensure that our nuclear power is generated safely and responsibly."
And while governments in Switzerland and Germany took steps to curtail their nuclear energy programs, Chu told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development that the U.S. "must rely" on nuclear power and that the administration will continue to push $36 billion in loan guarantees to help power companies build more plants.
In Richland, the CREHST Museum was attracting visitors this week who wanted to learn more about the nuclear industry, said executive director Ellen Low.
Many of its docents have lived in the Tri-Cities since World War II or the early years of the Cold War and were assuring visitors of the safety of living in a community with close ties to the nuclear industry, she said.
Officials at the Hanford vitrification plant, which is being built to treat radioactive waste, also were assuring the public of the plant's safety in the event of an earthquake or flood. The plant is 150 feet above the level of a flood associated with a breach of the Grand Coulee Dam.
The nuclear waste at the plant would not have the high residual decay heat of fuel at power plants that require long-term cooling, according to information from the Department of Energy.
Its earthquake safety features would allow continuous purging of any hydrogen generated in large vessels after a severe earthquake, according to DOE.