By John Stang for TCAJOB
State Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, plans to renew her efforts in the upcoming legislative session to make Hanford a potential site to manufacture small modular reactors.
Last year, Brown got a bill passed that ordered the Washington Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council study potential sites for individual small modular reactors in the state — with southern Hanford next to the Columbia Generating Station being a likely frontrunner.
[blockquote quote="We need to keep our people employed and keep them in the State of Washington." source="State Sen. Sharon Brown" align="right" max_width="300px"]
That study is done and a report will be released any day.
Meanwhile, Brown plans to pursue a companion bill that stalled in 2015 to set up a study on whether Hanford would be a good place to manufacture small modular reactor components as well — with those sections to be assembled into whole reactors at their individual sites.
Last year, Brown’s bill to have the state study putting a manufacturing plant in southern Hanford stalled in the House. The Senate easily passed it. The bill received strong bipartisan support from the House Technology & Economic Development Committee before ending up in the end-of-session limbo that stopped numerous bills. This is what Brown plans to revive in the 2016 session.
“I am very optimistic that the report will highlight a feasible path forward for the state in area,” Brown said. “It is crucial that the State of Washington stay engaged in the discussion of (small modular reactors), as states all around us are prepared to enter this arena in a meaningful way. The state of Washington is already losing its talent to those other states.”
Brown said if nothing else, the state should grab the opportunity to be involved in the supply chain for the manufacturing of small modular reactors.
“We need to keep our people employed and keep them in the State of Washington,” she said.
Brown said she continues to educate her legislative colleagues on the importance of nuclear and of adding small modular nuclear reactor technology to our energy strategy. And stressing the importance of it moving forward.
“It is becoming more clear at the federal level that nuclear will be a key component to meeting federal carbon reduction goals,” Brown said.
But even if the Legislature approves Brown’s second bill, the Tri-Cities faces a good wait before learning whether the area could be home to a new nuclear enterprise.
The designers of the nation’s first small modular reactors are expected to decide in about two years whether Washington is a good place to build a plant for manufacturing reactors’ components to assemble elsewhere.
NuScale of Corvallis, Ore., is looking at several states scattered across the nation as potential manufacturing sites. The prime manufacturing site will likely be a place near where utilities are ordering a significant number of small modular reactors, said Mike McGough, NuScale’s chief commercial officer, in an interview in the summer of 2015.
Tri-Cities’ officials hope it will attract a manufacturing plant and at least one small modular reactor to the partially-built WNP-1 reactor site in southern Hanford.
But numerous questions must be addressed before the region will know whether it will get either a small modular reactor or a manufacturing plant.
Economics and proximity to buyers will likely be deciding factors on where NuScale will build both individual small modular reactors and its manufacturing plant, McGough said.
Small modular reactors are prefabricated reactors. The parts are manufactured in one location, and then transported to the reactor site for final assembly. A modular segment would be a mini-reactor of 50 to 300 megawatts. Energy Northwest’s Columbia Generating Station produces more than 1,190 megawatts of electricity, equal to about a tenth of the state’s energy needs. Small modular reactors are supposed to be designed so extra modules can be added as needed — with 12 modules being the theoretical maximum. They are similar to the small reactors that operate on U.S. Navy ships.
The initial cost estimate to take the project from design to the first Idaho Falls reactor is roughly $1 billion. In recent years, the deep-pocketed global giant Fluor Corp. bought NuScale.
NuScale, Energy Northwest, the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (a Utah version of Energy Northwest) and the U.S. Department of Energy facility at Idaho Falls have agreed to build the first such reactor in Idaho by 2023. NuScale plans to submit its design to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission by late this year, hoping for a green light about 40 months later.
Critics cite the lack of any track record on cost or safety for small modular reactors, plus concerns over the nation’s lack of a permanent place to store used nuclear fuel. No one has built a commercial small modular reactor yet, although supporters contend they are similar to the small reactors that operate on U.S. Navy ships.
Energy Northwest’s interest in getting its own small modular reactor will depend on if and when Energy Northwest’s member utilities will need extra power. At this time, the consortium does not expect that need to grow for the next few years, said Energy Northwest spokesman John Dobken, also in a summer 2015 interview.
Another wrinkle is that a 1981 state law requires that public utilities conduct a public ballot on any significant energy generation project that is likely to increase utility rates. Consequently, a public vote stretching from Seattle to Kennewick could lurk in the future of a small modular reactor project if it would impact Energy Northwest’s rates.
Chuck Johnson of the nuclear watchdog organization Physicians for Social Responsibility has voiced concerns about a scenario in which a single 50-megawatt reactor module would fall beneath the ballot threshold of the 1981 Washington law, and the addition of 50-megawatt modules one at a time could keep a state project below that public-vote benchmark.
Meanwhile, a manufacturing site for small modular reactor components would need about 1.9 million sq. feet of space, employ about 1,000 people and would aim to produce 36 to 52 factoring modules a year, McGough said. NuScale is looking at Hanford, the Southwest, Utah and several Midwest, Southern and Eastern seaboard states as potential manufacturing sites.
Selection of a manufacturing site would partly depend on which part of the nation produces the first significant number of orders, McGough said.
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