Don Brunell

Don Brunell

Why we should reconsider nuclear power | Brunell

If Americans are to receive all of their electricity without coal and natural gas by 2035, they will need nuclear power. Even if Washingtonians, who already procure over 70 percent of their electricity from the hydro, are to be completely devoid of fossil fuel generation by 2045, they must have nuclear.

Washington’s Clean Energy Transformation Act passed earlier this year by the legislature leans heavily on renewable fuels, particularly wind and solar. It calls for electrical generation to be completely free from emitting greenhouses gases, such as CO2 Little mentioned is nuclear; however, it can play a major role in the years ahead, especially with newer technologies which are being developed in Oregon.

Today, coal and natural gas-fired turbines generate two-thirds of our nation’s electricity, the U.S. Energy Information Office reports. Hydro, wind and solar — the most abundant renewables producing electricity today — add up to 16 percent. However, nuclear chips in 19 percent.

Part of the reason the nuclear option is overlooked is people’s fear of another reactor malfunction such as occurred in Chernobyl (Russia) in 1986 and at Fukushima Daiichi (Japan) in 2011.

Currently, nuclear power comes from large plants such as the Columbia River Generating Station (CRGS) located at Hanford which is adjacent to Richland. It is Washington’s third largest electricity generating facility behind Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams and operating under a license which is up for renewal in 2043.

CRGS produces enough electricity to supply Seattle and some of its suburbs (1.5 million households). However, similar projects have been decommissioned and demolished. For example, Oregon’s only nuclear plant, Trojan shut down in 1992 and razed.

So with that trend and people’s fear, why reconsider nuclear power?

First, consider it is out of necessity. Without nuclear, it will be extremely difficult to wean ourselves from fossil fuels. Nuclear power does not rely on sunshine or wind. Nor does it require augmentation by large battery systems such as those currently under development. Like hydropower, it can supplement wind and solar.

Second, nuclear power plants generate massive amounts of electricity on a small land footprint. Available land will grow increasingly scarce. For example, the Columbia Generating Station encompasses 1,100 acres. By contrast Washington’s 1,725 wind turbines need 1.5 acres each or roughly 26,000 acres, according to National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The big question is safety. The U.S. Navy initiated its nuclear propulsion program in 1948 with safety as top priority. Since 1975, all submarines and supercarriers have been powered by nuclear reactors and its safety record is very good.

Similar to the Navy, the new commercial nuclear technology is smaller. The advanced small modular nuclear reactor (SMR) developed at Oregon State University was spun out to NuScale. SMRs take up one-percent of the space of a conventional reactor and each one produces 60 megawatts of power. When stacked together, the 12 would perform as one.

To make the reactors safer, Jose Reyes, a nuclear engineer and co-founder of NuScale, told Science Magazine, they have simplified the design and made them impervious to melt down. They will be factory built and moved to the site, which could include demolished plant sites like Trojan.

The first SMR is working its way through the licensing process and would be located at Idaho’s National Lab near Idaho Falls. It is expected to be operational by 2023.

Staff from Energy Northwest are scheduled to operate the Idaho facility and the utility is considering locating another at Hanford. One design under consideration by Energy Northwest would generate 700 megawatts which is approximately half of the Columbian Generating Station output.

While SMR have a long road ahead, the prospects for providing greenhouse gas free electricity must not be ignored nor given token consideration. Nuclear is a solution deserving inclusion.

Don Brunell, retired president of the Association of Washington Business, is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He lives in Vancouver. Contact: TheBrunells@msn.com.


In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing editor@valleyrecord.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.valleyrecord.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in Opinion

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at thebrunells@msn.com.
Reasons to ban Gov. Jay Inslee’s natural gas ban | Brunell

Column: Switching from natural gas to electricity is complicated and will impact everyone.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Can a Texas-style abortion law happen in Washington? | Roegner

If politicians really want to anger women voters, the easiest way is… Continue reading

William Shaw is General Manager of the Snoqualmie Valley Record. Contact: wshaw@valleyrecord.com.
Independent community journalism is crucial — now more than ever

During these times of change and division, the need to highlight what brings our community together is even stronger.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Back to the classroom during abnormal times | Roegner

If it didn’t feel so normal, we might forget about the coronavirus… Continue reading

Robert Toomey, CFA/CFP, is Vice President of Research for S. R. Schill & Associates on Mercer Island.
What’s up with the real estate market? | Guest column

As we all know, the residential real estate market and prices have… Continue reading

9/11 Memorial in Cashmere, Washington. Photo courtesy of Greg Asimakoupoulos
Twenty years after tragedy brought us together | Guest column

Recently, I was reflecting on where I was and what I was… Continue reading

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Next year’s elections are already underway | Roegner

The 2021 session of the Washington State Legislature was dominated by the… Continue reading

Screenshot of Voice of America footage from the August 2021 scene at Kabul’s international airport in Afghanistan.
What the Afghan wants to say | Guest column

The American interest in Afghanistan goes back to the Cold War era,… Continue reading

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
King County executive wins battle with suburbs over inquests | Roegner

Since 1854, when Washington was a territory, inquests have been required whenever… Continue reading

In a three-day event ahead of the November 2020 elections, the voting center at Federal Way’s Performing Arts and Event Center saw 1,433 voters, which included 466 newly registered voters. File photo
Editorial: Baseless claims of fraud threaten voter confidence

Without evidence of fraud, it’s those alleging irregularities who are a threat to election integrity.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal told a crowd in Port Angeles he would like to see school districts have the ability to increase their local levies. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)
Message from state superintendent regarding school employee vaccinations

After a year and a half of remote and hybrid learning, my… Continue reading

A Sept. 10, 2020, satellite image shows smoke from U.S. wildfires blanketing the majority of the West Coast. (European Space Agency)
Editorial: The UN climate report, ‘The Lorax’ and us

The report and the Dr. Seuss classic offer a dire warning — and hope — for responding to climate change.