State senator: Washington small reactor report promising

Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, visited the NuScale small modular nuclear reactor simulator.
Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, visited the NuScale small modular nuclear reactor simulator. Washington State Senate Republican Caucus

A newly completed report shows promising potential for small modular nuclear reactors in Washington state, according to Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, a proponent of nuclear power.

She got $176,000 approved last year for the report by the Washington Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, which coordinates the evaluation and licensing steps for certain energy facilities in the state and specifies the conditions of construction and operation.

The development of small modular reactors “has the potential for significant improvements in nuclear plant siting associated with cost, safety, permitting schedule, generation flexibility and site requirements,” the report concluded. It was prepared for the state agency by Golder Associates.

The reactors, which would have capacity of 300 megawatts or less per module, could be built in a factory and then transported to an operating location, improving construction quality and efficiency, the report said. They could be placed underground for protection from natural hazards and man-made hazards, such as airplane impacts.

Promoting the growth of the nuclear industry in Washington could mean thousands of good-paying, family wage jobs.

Sen. Sharon Brown

The small reactors would have the potential for significant, steady generation of carbon-free power, the report said.

“It is a win for our environment and a win for our economy,” Brown said in a statement. “… promoting the growth of the nuclear industry in Washington could mean thousands of good-paying, family wage jobs in construction, manufacturing and other related high-tech fields.”

The public and government agencies may have concerns about nuclear waste disposal, transportation of fuel, and nuclear power in general, the report cautioned.

But the potential for advances in safety and licensing processes offered by small modular reactors “have generated interest in Washington, the United States and around the world,” it said. China, India, Russia, Argentina and South Korea have small reactors in design or construction.

Brown is concerned that other states, including Idaho and Oregon, already are making a play for small modular reactor technology, making them direct regional competitors with Washington for possible new jobs.

The report recommends streamlining the siting application process.

Sen. Sharon Brown

Wednesday she introduced Senate Bill 6224 to act on recommendations in the new report.

“It is important that we look for ways to streamline the siting and licensing process so that Washington can be a leader in this field and an attractive location for those in development, production and commercialization of SMR technology,” Brown said.

Her bill would eliminate an early-stage land use hearing that is required now. The report found that land use regulations have diluted the value of the hearing. Land use still would be considered as part of the environmental study.

Brown’s bill also would set expedited deadlines for state work. For instance, if the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council conducts an informational public hearing it must be within 30 days of an application for certification of a project.

The report considered the suitability of different regions of the state for a small modular nuclear reactor, finding that Hanford and the Tri-Cities area are generally suitable, if the sites are not near an active seismic fault.

Many Washington residents are cautious about nuclear power.

Small Modular Reactors report

Existing power plant sites in the state are likely candidates for suitable locations, the report said. Suitable sites include the Columbia Generating Station near Richland, a 1,100-megawatt nuclear power plant, and the two sites where the Washington Public Power Supply System once planned to build nuclear plants at Hanford.

An application to the state for a small modular reactor is not likely for eight to 10 years, the report said. In time the state may want to commission a study to evaluate the potential cost of future power to ratepayers, including the federal government’s commitment to cover some of the cost risks of the new technology.

It also recommended a poll of Washington residents on their acceptance of nuclear power.

“Many Washington residents are cautious about nuclear power,” given the environmental cleanup of nuclear weapons waste at Hanford and the bond default of the Washington Public Power Supply System, the report said.

Concerns also have been raised by the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan and the lack of a national repository for used commercial nuclear fuel.

There also are residents across the state, particularly in the Tri-Cities area, who support the economic benefits of nuclear-related activities, it said.

Annette Cary: 509-582-1533, @HanfordNews