Nuclear Power? Yesby Staff
The Columbian, February 18, 2010
It's time to let solid science guide this clean energy source out of its doldrums
Pacific Northwesterners are understandably skeptical about nuclear power. We're twice burned.
The old Washington Public Power Supply System (mocked as "Whoops") was supposed to build five nuclear reactors, but after a three-decades debacle of construction delays and cost overruns, the only lasting contribution is the Columbia Generating Station near Richland. The only nuclear power plant in the Northwest provides about 9 percent of the state's generating capacity. Meanwhile, the public is still left with mountains of debt -- $2.25 billion at one point -- from the big Whoops.
And it was less than four years ago that the Trojan nuclear power plant's signature tower was demolished just across the Columbia River from Kalama. At one time, the plant employed 1,300 workers. But it had opened more than a year late in 1975, and it was closed far ahead of schedule. Still, as we editorialized at the time of the Trojan tower demolition, nuclear power generation should not be permanently dismissed because -- as much of the rest of the world has discovered -- it provides clean and reasonably safe energy. Also, it helps wean the world from the reliance on dirty, fossil-fuel-burning power production.
So it was encouraging to hear President Obama boosting the nuclear power industry on Tuesday with $8 billion in new federal loan guarantees. Ultimately, the Obama administration wants to more than triple the loan guarantees for nuclear power construction, to $54.5 billion. This week's announcement will help pay for two new reactors in Georgia. In all, more than a dozen applications are pending, and construction could start in a year or two. New plants are not expected to come online for six or seven years. Each nuclear power plant creates thousands of construction jobs for several years, then hundreds of high-paying permanent jobs.
Radical Democrats are angry over Obama's defection to endorse a cause traditionally promoted by Republicans, who now also criticize the president for promoting nuclear power while opposing a nuclear waste disposal facility in Nevada. But beyond the political spats, nuclear power already is making good sense in America; 104 nuclear plants in 31 states churn out 20 percent of the country's electricity and 70 percent of power from pollution-free sources.
Despite those statistics, the nuclear power industry in this nation has been stuck on the status quo, with multiple controversies, real and imagined, halting new plant applications in the late 1970s.
In response to the nuclear waste disposal problem, Obama has appointed a commission to find a solution. No long-term disposal plan exists, and nuclear power plants will continue to store spent fuel rods on site.
But the waste disposal challenge is no reason not to at least get started on expanding the industry. Equally important is the need for government ultimately to step aside and let the free market take over. As Obama said this week, We're not going to achieve a big boost in nuclear capacity unless we also create a system of incentives to make clean energy profitable. As long as producing carbon pollution carries no cost, traditional plants that use fossil fuels will be more cost-effective than plants that use nuclear fuel." Indeed, it's time to replace the cheap-and-dirty status quo with an affordable-and-clean energy plan.
The rest of the world is proving this can be done. As The Oregonian reported this week, a combined 56 nuclear plants are under construction in China (21), South Korea and India. And with the Three Mile Island (1979) and Chernobyl (1986) catastrophes in the distant past, it's time to let safe, solid science prevail and guide America into the modern era of clean energy production.
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