NEI Nuclear Notes recently published an intriguing blog titled Walking Toward Nuclear on Tip Toe about Energy Northwest’s interest in new nuclear power development. Energy Northwest has an interesting history – it used to be called the Washington Public Power Supply System (WPPSS) and it once got involved in a massive project to build 5 nuclear plants on a single site.
The project fizzled financially and only one of the plants, the Columbia Generating Station, was completed. WPPSS (pronounced Whoops) defaulted on its bonds; I am one of the many people who believe that its financial repercussions, along with the Shoreham debacle, have had more to do with the lack of new nuclear plant construction in the US than the accident at Three Mile Island.
Now, faced with increasing electrical power demand, increasing difficulty of developing coal based power plants, and increasing uncertainty about the reliability of large hydro power over the long term – due to both environmental battles over dam destruction and occasional regional droughts, Energy Northwest is again considering new nuclear power.
Based on an article appropriately titled Energy Northwest considers more nuclear power, it seems that the organization is still interested in series reactor production as a way to reduce the unit costs, but it might be leaning towards a less risky way to achieve the unit volumes that it desires.
Energy Northwest has spent the past year researching its nuclear options, including a 1,600-megawatt plant that would power more than 1 million homes, before deciding to gauge interest in a small project where 40-megawatt reactors can be added as needed.
My guess is that Energy Northwest leaders have been talking to their neighbors from Corvallis, OR, the home of both the Oregon State University and NuScale, a company that grew out of an OSU research project.
That company is not only in Energy Northwest’s service territory, but it also has been marketing a modular light water reactor that will produce roughly 40-45 MW of electrical power. The company believes that it can offer its customers economy of scale by building out a site gradually with a series of modular plants built in US facilities. Each unit can each be operated individually as it is delivered and installed to begin producing electricity – and sales revenue for those customers – much more quickly than what can be achieved with a single large reactor.
I am a longtime fan of the project. I disagree with the implication of my friends at NEI that going small on a per unit basis constitutes walking on “tip toe”. I think it is a smart way to mitigate risk while making a substantial commitment to move forward.
My support for the NuScale organization has been strengthened now that I know that their new CFO, John “Jay” Surina, went to one of the top institutions for learning and integrity in the country. He is not only smart and experienced, but he evidently has a more balanced outlook about the importance of money than many many financial types.
Any guesses on the source of Surina’s undergraduate education? (No fair visiting the link before entering your guess in the comment thread.)