Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Walking Toward Nuclear on Tip-Toe

cgs1 Energy Northwest is giving nuclear energy a look-see.

In a May 27 letter obtained by The Associated Press, the [Energy Northwest] consortium asked each of its 25 member public utilities and municipalities to pitch in $25,000 for further research into building one or more small reactors. Those who pay would have first rights to any power produced if a plant is built.

Well, that’s pretty small-d democratic. And Energy Northwest, which had a rough ride with nuclear energy in the 80s – the article goes into all that - is indeed proceeding this time most carefully:

Energy Northwest has spent the past year researching its nuclear options, including a 1,600-megawatt plant that would power more than 1 million homes, before deciding to gauge interest in a small project where 40-megawatt reactors can be added as needed.

Hmm, perhaps too carefully. Although the article doesn’t say it, it looks as though the idea may be to use the smaller plants to backstop their renewable portfolio (the article says wind, solar and biomass, but we think solar is really unlikely in raintown. These are hydro people, with the dams to prove it.)

Read the whole article – there’s a lot of detail in it – but we would note as a final point that the nuclear plant that did come out of the 80s debacle – The Columbia Generating Station – has hummed along quite nicely for the last 25 years. We can’t blame Energy Northwest for walking on tip-toe, because at least they’re walking in the right direction.

The Columbia Generating Station. Not terrible as industrial structures go.


Anonymous said...

Energy Northwest is not in Seattle! It is located in Eastern Washington near the Hanford Site. With 6-7 inches of rain per year and 300+ sunny days - I believe solar is also on their radar.

But this is certainy an interesting development - it is one of the few areas where the community would support new nuclear readily - though the state interests on the other side of the mountains may oppose.

Anonymous said...

This is very clearly an effort to look at deploying NuScale reactors.


Good for Energy Northwest.

Rod Adams said...

I have not yet read the linked article, but have an immediate guess that the folks at Energy Northwest have been talking to their neighbors from NuScale, which is located in Corvallis, OR, the same town as Oregon State University.

The description of a 40 MWe plant module where additional modules can be added as desired fits right in with NuScale's concept of modular light water reactors using natural circulation coolant flow.

Now I need to go read the linked article to confirm my guess.

m said...

People may find the slides from a seminar given by Dr Reyes of Nuscale at MIT of interest.

Mike V

perdajz said...

Reyes presentation is odd. It seems to equate financial risk with severe accident risk, which is not the case. The likelihood of any severe accident is so fantastically low that it means almost nothing from a financial standpoint. In other words, nuclear power is plenty safe already. Reducing core damage frequency from 1E-7 to 1E-9 per year does not accomplish much to get a plant built.

The main financial risks are regulatory and political. Reyes never addresses that. Why would it be easier to build many 40 MW plants than it would be to build one 1000 MW plants? In many respects, the political and regulatory risks are independent of plant size. Nuclear power opponents and their lawyers don't care if the plant is 40 MW or 1000 MW; if it has fission products, it must be delayed and regulated out of existence, in their eyes.

Yeah, I get it: it is easier to build small ones and stack them up. But in the perserve economics and politics of nuclear power, that may or may not hold true. I don't see anything in Reyes presentation to address that, even though there's nothing I like better than doing PRA.