Hanford

Petition could shut down Richland nuclear power plant

No Nukes Northwest is gathering signatures for an initiative to shut down the Columbia Generating Station near Richland.
No Nukes Northwest is gathering signatures for an initiative to shut down the Columbia Generating Station near Richland. Courtesy NRC

Not many people in southwestern Washington state know that some of the electricity that keeps the lights on in their homes comes from the nuclear power plant near Richland, said Mimi German of No Nukes Northwest.

She’s been gathering signatures in Vancouver, Wash., for a legislative initiative aimed at shutting down Energy Northwest’s Columbia Generating Station near Richland.

Just one person in 10 she approaches, at most, is aware of the nuclear plant, she said. It is the only commercial nuclear power plant in the Northwest.

Gathering the nearly 246,400 signatures needed to qualify the initiative may not be a realistic goal for the Portland-based organization by the end-of-the-year deadline. The initiative is filed under the name of a Washington state resident with the group.

The group is using only volunteers to gather the names, rather than hiring workers to stand outside stores with petitions.

But part of No Nukes Northwest’s goal with the initiative is to educate people that there is a nuclear power plant in the state — particularly those who may favor shutting it down, German said.

“When people find out, they are quite surprised,” she said.

The initiative would require the Columbia Generating Station to be shut down until there is a national repository to accept used nuclear fuel.

Used fuel was planned to go to the Yucca Mountain National Repository, but currently no permanent repository is expected to open before 2048.

Here in Washington we enjoy some of the lowest cost energy in the nation. That’s because our leaders and voters have understood the economic value of maintaining a diverse energy portfolio.

John Dobken, Energy Northwest spokesman

The initiative also would require the nuclear plant to be closed until the state’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council finds that operating the plant is cost effective and that it can withstand the maximum credible earthquake.

The initiative would require the council to have an independent geologic investigation and engineer analysis conducted.

German said she would like to see the nuclear plant’s electricity production replaced with wind and solar production, aided by increased energy efficiency to reduce consumer use.

That’s the plan for the two Diablo Canyon nuclear reactors in California, which are expected to be shut down, but not until 2024-25.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has pledged to replace its output with renewable wind and solar production, aided by increased conservation. The plant provides almost 9 percent of the baseload, or constant, power for the state of California.

Columbia Generating Station provides enough electricity to power a city the size of Seattle.

Energy Northwest said No Nukes Northwest is not being realistic about the economics of grid diversity and the environmental harm caused by carbon emissions.

“Are we concerned (about the initiative)? Sure,” said Energy Northwest spokesman John Dobken. “We don’t think an effort to mislead voters is ever a good idea.”

The initiative seeks to misinform voters on issues from cost to used fuel management, he said.

“Here in Washington we enjoy some of the lowest cost energy in the nation,” he said. “That’s because our leaders and voters have understood the economic value of maintaining a diverse energy portfolio.”

The grid needs a steady supply of electricity to function, and the only constant power sources are hydro, nuclear, natural gas and coal, with only hydro and nuclear “clean,” Dobken said. But hydro sources are tapped out in Washington, and coal plants, which emit greenhouse gases, are closing.

“So if we then take the long-term low cost of nuclear fuel off the table, that leaves the natural gas industry free to drive future prices in a non-competitive market,” Dobken said. “Nothing good will come of that.”

If enough signatures are gathered, the Legislature can adopt the initiative as law; reject or not act on the initiative, send it to a statewide vote; or propose a different measure, with both measures put to a statewide vote.

The Columbia Generating Station produces enough electricity to power a city the size of Seattle and produces about 10 percent of the power marketed by the Bonneville Power Administration, according to information on BPA’s website.

The Columbia Generating Station’s used fuel from 30 years of operations is stored in concrete and steel dry-storage casks on an outside pad at Energy Northwest until the nation has a national repository to accept them. They take up a space one-twentieth of the size of Bonneville Power Administration’s nearby Ashe electrical substation.

Energy Northwest has just completed a peer-reviewed seismic study led by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. The study is included as part of a seismic review by the the Nuclear Regulatory commission.

“In the meantime, the NRC has confirmed on multiple occasions that Columbia Generating Station is safe to operate,” Dobken said.

No Nukes Northwest is pursuing an initiative to the Legislature rather than an initiative that would go straight to Washington voters.

If enough signatures are gathered, the Legislature can adopt the initiative as law; reject or not act on the initiative, send it to a statewide vote; or propose a different measure, with both measures put to a statewide vote.

To read the full initiative, go to www.radcast.org and click on “WA Initiatives to Shut Down CGS.”

Annette Cary: 509-582-1533, @HanfordNews

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