Nuclear energy is a vital component of our economy and an increasingly essential option for clean energy while building a more diverse energy portfolio to meet future demand.

Dana Kirkham

Dana Kirkham

Because of this, I support the Utah Associated Municipal Power System’s (UAMPS) effort to build and operate the world’s first small modular reactors (SMRs) on the Idaho National Laboratory site.

Twelve 60-megawatt reactors, designed by Oregon-based NuScale Power, are the centerpiece of UAMPS’ Carbon Free Power Project.

This is a big deal – for Idaho, our nation and the world.

Because of this, Idahoans must have access to accurate information as the SMR project progresses through the Nuclear Regulatory Commission process.

For that reason, I’d like to address four issues raised recently by the Snake River Alliance: water, waste, why nuclear and why Idaho.

First, water:

Water usage at the NuScale plant will fall in the normal range of other nuclear power plants, coal plants, oil-fired plants, gas-fired plants, solar-thermal plants and biofuel-fired plants.

All of the above, including SMRs, use between 600 to 800 gallons per megawatt hour of water consumption when they use wet cooling towers at normal conditions.

Claims that the NuScale SMR will be a water hog are false.

Now, waste:

Used nuclear fuel is solid when it goes into a reactor and solid when it comes out. It is arranged in sets of sealed metal tubes that hold ceramic uranium pellets, and has been stored safely and securely above ground for decades.

All the used commercial fuel generated by U.S. nuclear power plants since the first time atoms were used peacefully to generate electricity, could be stacked 10 feet high on one football field. Coal plants generate that much waste in an hour. Claims that this SMR project threatens the East Snake River Plain Aquifer – or could turn Idaho into the nation’s waste repository – are not true.

Why Idaho?

Idaho Falls Power has signed onto the project and will receive SMR-generated electricity when the plant comes online in 2026.

Idaho has consistently supported the NuScale SMR through our congressional delegation and state Legislature, which overwhelmingly, and in bipartisan fashion, approved two bills during the 2018 session related to the project.

The NuScale project would generate thousands of good-paying jobs for Idahoans during the construction phase, and roughly 360 permanent jobs averaging approximately $85,000 per year.

And this project would support INL’s mission. The nation’s lead nuclear energy research and development laboratory, with its history of building and operating 52 original nuclear reactors, is the perfect place for this first-of-its-kind technology.

Finally, why nuclear?

UAMPS determined its three aging coal plants, which generate approximately 60 percent of the electricity for its customers, must be replaced.

The anti-nuclear crowd desperately wants to believe these megawatts can be replaced with a combination of solar, wind and storage. That’s not reality. UAMPS has determined two paths forward: nuclear energy or natural gas.

So, why nuclear?

Because it produces more than half of this nation’s carbon-free electricity, far more than wind and solar combined.

Because gas, like coal, emits toxins that threaten our environment and public health.

Because nuclear helps renewables, such as wind and solar, integrate into the power grid. This isn’t an either or scenario as Snake River Alliance would have you believe. Nuclear energy is an essential part of the energy portfolio in Idaho and throughout the nation.

For these reasons and many others, environmental groups and scientific societies increasingly support nuclear energy. The latest is the Union of Concerned Scientists, which just released a study showing the positive environmental impact of the nation’s 99 nuclear power plants.

The only weapon in the anti-nuclear energy crowd’s arsenal is fear. Idahoans know better. We understand this zero-carbon energy source is our best hope to power the future.

The facts are on our side.

And in the Idaho I know and love, facts trump fear every time.

Dana Kirkham is the chief executive officer of Regional Economic Development — Eastern Idaho.

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