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Weighing Nuclear Plant's Costs, Benefits

by Sandi Doughton
Seattle Times, July 2, 2011

(Steve Ringman) The spent-fuel pool that holds used fuel rods is similar to those damaged at Japan's Fukushima nuclear complex. Nuclear experts say it's the most vulnerable part of the plant. Whether the Columbia Generating Station has been a good deal for Washington power consumers depends on how you slice and dice the numbers, says Jim Lazar, an Olympia-based economist who specializes in power issues.

"If you look back at what the power from this plant has cost in total, it's clearly not a good deal," Lazar said. "But if you ask 'Does it make sense to keep running it today?' The answer is 'yes.' "

With interest, the outstanding debt on the plant is $3.6 billion.

When those payments are factored in along with depreciation, waste disposal, administrative expenses and all other costs reported annually by Energy Northwest, Lazar calculates power from the nuclear plant averages about 6.5 cents per kilowatt hour (kwh) -- more expensive than hydropower, coal and natural gas.

Looking only at operating and maintenance costs, Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) puts the price at 3.6 cents per kwh. Hydropower costs about 2.8 cents per kwh.

BPA has had to boost rates -- including a proposed 8 percent increase for 2012-13 -- to pay for upgrades at the nuclear-power plant. According to a 2009 BPA analysis, it costs more to maintain and operate the Columbia Generating Station than all 31 of the hydropower plants in the Columbia Basin combined.

But the plant provides about 10 percent of BPA's electricity, which would have to be replaced if it were shut down.

Leaving out money already spent, "if the plant can be run safely and reliably into the future," Lazar said, "then it's a good deal."

Information in this article, originally published July 2, 2011, was corrected July 12, 2011. A previous version of this story said independent power analyst Jim Lazar has calculated the total cost of power from Columbia Generating Station, with debt payments, depreciation and all other expenses factored in, as 7.4 cents per kilowatt hour. The correct number over the lifetime of the plant is about 6.5 cents per kwh.

Sandi Doughton
Weighing Nuclear Plant's Costs, Benefits
Seattle Times, July 2, 2011

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