Today, the Seabrook Public Library is showing a film that highlights the start of the anti-nuclear power community. The film is about a long-ago protest in 1977 in which activists opposed to nuclear energy tried to occupy the Seabrook plant site during construction. Seabrook finally got built, and in the 22 years since it began producing electricity, it has amassed an impressive record of economic and environmental benefits.
According to the Energy Information Administration, the Seabrook nuclear power reactor (1,247 MW) is the largest in New England and provided 42 percent of New Hampshire's 2011 electricity generation. Since it began commercial operation in 1990, the unit has produced a total of 189,684,433,000 kilowatt-hours, or more than enough electricity to power New York or Illinois for a year.
According to NextEra, its owner, Seabrook generates enough power to supply the annual needs of 1.4 million families and businesses.
If Seabrook wasn’t in operation, the electricity for those 1.4 million families and businesses would likely be generated from fossil fuel plants. In 2011, based on data from EIA and EPA, Seabrook’s clean nuclear electricity avoided the emission of 6,200 tons of sulfur dioxide, 1,400 tons of nitrogen oxide, and 4.0 million metric tons of carbon dioxide that would have otherwise come from fossil fuel plants.
That volume of carbon dioxide is equivalent to the CO2 emissions from 774,000 cars each year. For perspective, there are only 619,000 cars in New Hampshire.
If a coal plant had been built instead of Seabrook, it would have emitted nearly 190 million metric tons of CO2 over 22 years - more than the CO2 emissions from the entire state of New York in 2009. If a natural gas plant had been built instead of Seabrook, it would have emitted nearly 94 million metric tons of CO2 over 22 years - nearly equal to all of Arizona’s CO2 emissions for the whole of 2009. (For background, one metric ton of CO2 is emitted for every megawatt-hour (MWh) generated by a coal plant. Similarly, one-half of a metric ton of CO2 is emitted for every MWh generated by a gas plant.)
Natural Resources Saved
Besides avoiding emissions, operation of the Seabrook nuclear station also avoids massive quantities of coal, natural gas and land resources that would otherwise be consumed in replacing Seabrook’s electricity output.
The amount of coal saved since 1990 is about 95 million short tons, or nearly the amount of coal consumed in a year by Texas - the largest state consumer of coal.
Had Seabrook been a natural gas plant, 1.5 trillion cubic feet of gas would have been consumed since 1990 which is more gas consumed in a year than each of the three largest state consumers of gas: Louisiana, Florida and New York.
(Based on EIA figures, about half a short ton of coal is consumed to generate one MWh and about eight cubic feet of gas is consumed to generate one kWh.)
Besides the amount of coal and gas avoided by Seabrook, it’s useful to point out how much land would be required if the unit were replaced by wind turbines or solar panels. In order to produce the same amount of electricity in a year as Seabrook does, you need about 290 square miles of wind turbines or about 80 square miles of solar panels. The Seabrook station, on New Hampshire’s coast, covers 1.5 square miles.
(The source of the renewable land info is found here and the calculations above account for solar and wind’s low capacity factors.)
Although it doesn’t burn coal or gas, Seabrook does use nuclear fuel. Since it began operation 22 years ago, Seabrook has used 550 metric tons of nuclear fuel. This quantity is small enough to store on Seabrook’s site and even small enough to fit on a Best Buy parking lot, including the fuel assemblies and protective covers.
Economic and Community Benefits
According to NextEra’s website, Seabrook provides many economic benefits to its employees and the community. During normal operations, the station employs 1,100 people. During the refueling and maintenance outages that take place every 18 months, the number of employees doubles to 2,100.
Further, each year, the plant pays $100 million in employee salaries which then trickle down through the economy, and another $20 million in property taxes that goes to the local communities to pay for schools, roads and other public services.
Many More Years of Service
Seabrook is one of the younger nuclear stations in operation and has another 18 years before its current 40-year license expires. The unit has applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to operate for 60 years and there is much discussion and research going on in the industry to determine how nuclear plants can operate for 80 years. Seabrook could be around for quite a few more generations -- helping to avoid emissions and save resources while providing substantial economic benefits and reliable electricity to its community, New Hampshire and New England. As the nuclear critics will celebrate their efforts, in reality, it’s a great thing for the community, and the country, that the station was actually completed and put into service.
And where did a huge part of those costs come from? It came from high interest rates on the debt during the '80s and Governor Dukakis stonewalling approving emergency plans so the plant couldn't begin operating and collecting revenue.