Time for nuclear power in Oregon?

Time for nuclear power in Oregon?

The Gazette-Times on developing a nuclear power plant in Oregon:

Feb. 15

Is it time for Oregon to take another look at nuclear power?

President Obama called for new nuclear power development in his State of the Union speech, and his proposed budget for the 2011 fiscal year includes $36 billion in loan guarantee authority for two new nuclear power facilities and $793 million for new research.

Included in that proposed basket of dough is a chunk of nearly $39 million designated for so-called "small modular reactors." That could be good news for NuScale Power, the Corvallis company that's working to develop a small, safe, scalable and modular nuclear power system.

(The company, one of at least three working on modular reactor designs, was formed in 2007 to commercialize research created at Oregon State University.)

Nuclear power essentially has been dead in Oregon since voters in 1980 approved a ballot measure to ban construction of any new nuclear power plants in the state without federally approved waste facilities. At the time, Oregon's only commercial nuclear facility was the troubled Trojan Nuclear Plant. In the 1990s, after documents leaked from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission saying that the plant might be unsafe, Portland General Electric shut it down.

With that kind of poster child for nuclear power, it's no wonder Oregon voters turned their backs.

It might be worth another look now.

Essentially, two arguments have helped to fuel the renaissance of interest in nuclear power: For one thing, it's becoming apparent that solar and wind power will not be sufficient to meet growing energy needs, at least not in the short run. (Although we were happy to see last week's news that the Northwest Power and Conservation Council had adopted a regional power plan that puts a heavy emphasis on conservation and energy efficiency, additional energy will be needed in the long run.)

But the primary argument is this one: Nuclear power plants emit none of the greenhouse gases linked to global warming.

But don't assume that the resurgence in nuclear power is a sure thing: NuScale, for example, has yet to win governmental design certification. A spokesman for NuScale recently told Sustainable Business Oregon that its first plant isn't expected to go live until 2018.

And the issue of where to store nuclear waste continues to be the industry's chief sore spot, although NuScale's investors have argued that isn't as much of a concern as it used to be. (Most facilities are storing waste on-site, and that will be the case for NuScale's plants as well.)

But as concerns mount over global warming and how to meet our growing energy needs, it's not out of the question that Oregon citizens will get an opportunity to revisit that 1980 vote. And citizens who still remember the Trojan plant as the face of nuclear power in Oregon are likely to be surprised by the work of companies like Corvallis' NuScale.

(Copyright 2010 The Associated Press)