BOISE – Despite at least two proposals in the past couple of years for new commercial nuclear power plants in Idaho, residents shouldn’t expect to see one in the next decade, a nuclear industry expert said Monday.
If you look out 15 years, it “might be possible,” Ralph Bennett, director of international and regional partnerships for the Idaho National Laboratory, told the Idaho Environmental Forum.
One nuclear plant proposal for the Payette area was dropped early this year after developers concluded it wasn’t feasible. Another proposal, for a plant along the Snake River in Elmore County, has stirred controversy but made little progress; developer Don Gillispie first proposed a site in Owyhee County, then moved the project.
Bennett said nuclear power plants take “a lot of lead time.” There are more than 20 proposed across the country, mostly in the Southeast. A few might win final approval in that region and begin construction in the next few years. If those are successful, Bennett said, “the potential may arise for development in Idaho.”
But Idahoans’ acceptance of nuclear plants will depend on how the plants use water, Bennett said.
There are three types of nuclear plants when it comes to water use, he said, with the type that uses the most water suitable for coastal areas. The least water-dependent type, which uses “dry cooling,” suffers in warm climates.
“There actually is a nuclear plant that uses exclusively dry cooling,” Bennett said. “It’s in Siberia.”
The third type, which uses 10 times as much water as the dry cooling method, uses evaporative cooling towers. One U.S. plant is experimenting with a design that uses a hybrid of dry and wet cooling, he said.
Another hurdle for nuclear power in Idaho is the state’s low electricity prices, Bennett said, compared with plants’ high construction costs. That wouldn’t prevent a plant from being built, as any Idaho plant likely would sell the power it generates to other states. But that also brings the need to satisfy neighbors that they won’t be unduly affected by a plant that doesn’t actually serve them.
This year’s Boise State University Public Policy Survey found 70 percent of Idahoans would oppose a nuclear plant in their county that provided electricity for other states, but if the plant were to serve Idahoans’ energy needs, the numbers shifted to 43 percent opposed and 45 percent in favor.