Study to look at Washington sites for small nuclear reactors

Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, tours a small modular reactor plant simulator in Corvallis, Ore, in 2014.
Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, tours a small modular reactor plant simulator in Corvallis, Ore, in 2014.

A new study championed by Washington state Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, will identify promising sites for small modular nuclear reactor operations in the state.

The Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council signed a contract with international company Golder Associates to conduct the study, the state announced Friday.

Brown was unable to get House approval this year for a bill to support the manufacturing of the small reactors, although the Senate passed the bill in late June. But she did succeed in getting $176,000 included in the state’s operating budget for 2015-17 to pay for the study.

“We are in a race with other states to get the technology located in our state and most importantly, the supply chain for manufacturing,” Brown said Friday.

There is interest in the Tri-Cities to position the community as a center for assembling or manufacturing the small nuclear plants to be shipped around the world, including to Asia. The reactors are proposed to be manufactured in modules and then shipped to where they will be used, with additional modules added as demand for electricity production increases.

The Tri-Cities has the educated and trained workforce for nuclear work, Brown said.

The bill also impacts other parts of the state, Brown said. A Vancouver, Wash., company has manufactured key parts for a mockup plant for NuScale Power of Oregon, which is developing a small modular reactor.

NuScale is working with Utah Associated Municipal Power systems and Energy Northwest in Richland to operate its first small reactor, likely in Idaho.

Brown is concerned Washington could lose jobs associated with a future small modular reactor industry to other states.

The city of Idaho Falls and the Idaho director of commerce would like to attract manufacturing to Idaho and have brought possible manufacturers of the reactors to Idaho for a symposium, Brown said.

Golder Associates will identify possible locations for small modular reactors in Washington and the permits needed, plus make recommendations on how processes for siting and issuing permits for the reactors could be streamlined.

Golder was picked because of its experience working both with nuclear power and the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council’s siting process. It will consult with the state military, ecology and health departments on permit responsibilities.

It also will obtain input from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and companies developing small reactors.

A preliminary report is due to the Legislature Dec. 1, and a final report is due within the first two weeks of the 2016 legislative session.

Annette Cary: 509-582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews