Bills seek to boost state nuclear efforts
Sat., March 7, 2015
OLYMPIA – Washington could renew its interest in nuclear energy by finding locations for small reactors and teaching teens about the industry, under a pair of bills the Senate passed Friday.
One bill would require state officials to seek potential locations for “modular” nuclear reactors able to produce about a third of the power of traditional power plants. Traditional plants generate 1,000 megawatts or more while modular reactors generate 300 megawatts or less.
They can be built in a factory, loaded onto a train or semitruck, and shipped to the site where they would be used. More reactors can be added to scale up power production.
Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, is the prime sponsor of both bills, as well as several others to promote nuclear energy.
“Oregon, Idaho and Utah are currently engaged in discussions about small modular nuclear reactors,” she said. “Where is Washington state in these discussions? Are we going to watch Oregon, Idaho and Utah steal our state’s intellectual capital while we sit back and say ‘woulda, coulda, shoulda’?”
Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, called Brown’s legislation “premature,” arguing that nuclear technology has not advanced far enough for the state to begin relying on it. The federal government is behind on its plans to establish a permanent storage facility for the nation’s nuclear waste, he said.
In 2011, the Obama administration stopped work on the Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada, which would take used fuel from the Columbia Generating Station near Richland and much of Hanford’s most radioactive waste.
“We haven’t figured out what we’re going to do with all this waste,” McCoy said. “And with these small modular reactors, we’re only going to create more waste.”
Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, said the benefits of nuclear energy could outweigh the risks, and it’s time for lawmakers to embrace the technology: “If we’re going to talk about transitioning into new energy types, this has to be a part of the discussion.”
Opponents at an earlier hearing said nuclear energy is neither safe nor cost-effective and does result in carbon emissions, contrary to popular belief. The bill passed 27-21.
On the proposed education program for students in eighth through 12th grades, Brown said it would “help clear up some myths about nuclear energy and spread the word that there are good-paying jobs in the nuclear industry.”
The program would work with the American Nuclear Society and Washington State University’s Energy Program. Students in some math and science classes would take part in workshops to learn about nuclear energy. The Legislature would set aside grant money on an annual basis.
“The world needs nuclear engineers,” said Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Kitsap County. “More importantly, we need future scientists who will know how to clean up nuclear waste.”
The education proposal passed on a 44-5 vote. Both bills now go to the House.
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