What should citizens and rate players think about the proposed commercial nuclear reactor near Idaho Falls? I read with interest Kurt Hamman’s cautions. These concerns must be addressed. Ideologically motivated opponents will indeed seek to sabotage any nuclear technology project by appeals to carefully picked judges and by roadblocks.

Steve Piet

Steve Piet

Poor project management is also a threat. Indeed, opponent sabotage and proponent mismanagement bedevil most projects, nuclear or not.

Nuclear power must advance. No electricity option has a lower environmental impact than nuclear when one considers water, land, use of scarce resources, air and carbon dioxide. For example, wind and solar are said to require no fuel, yet with short, 15- to 20-year lifetimes and weak energy concentration, their construction materials use land and deplete resources as more than a 60-yr nuclear energy source with strong energy concentration and annual refueling. The earth is most certainly warming and there is good evidence humans contribute significantly. Prudence dictates that we accelerate de-carbonization of the economy, including shifting electricity from fossil to nuclear, hydro, wind and solar – all non-carbon options. Since most non-fossil energy options generally provide energy in the form of electricity, we must also accelerate the shift of transportation from fossil to electricity.

The new Small Modular Reactor (SMR) NuScale design addresses all but one of the technical issues we’ve learned in recent decades. (The exception is that recycling the fuel would conserve resources and reduce long term waste management; that’s easier with sodium coolant metal-fuel reactors or salt reactors than with the proposed SMR design. So, I hope those technologies are tested here too.)

The new SMR NuScale design is less expensive, easier to manage, more bite-sized to construct and safer than current nuclear power plants.

Americans don’t cower from a challenge. I offer three suggestions.

First, manage expectations. Any new electricity of any type will have higher costs than options built long ago. Sorry, there is no cheap hydro to add. Government subsidies to wind and solar just shift costs from ratepayers to taxpayers, or worse, to future generations by increasing debt.

Second, create a citizen advisory panel that opens a dialogue with any group not ideologically opposed to nuclear. Other than those who are closed minded, invite a wide net from Idaho and surrounding states.

Third, create a management advisory board to avoid what Kurt is talking about. Give them access to the books and unfiltered unmonitored uncensored access to project personnel. Get ahold of people who finished nuclear plants and pick their brains often and deep.

This project should just about shift Idaho from importing coal-based electricity from our neighbors to self-sufficiency on our own non-fossil hydro, nuclear, and wind. We can do it. We must do it.

Steve Piet is a nuclear engineer who worked at Idaho National Laboratory for 31 years.

Load comments