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Montana legislatures to review the law restricting nuclear developments

Nuclear on the radar: Part II Montana Free Press, 5 Mar, 21,   –In Part II we explore emerging nuclear technology that some Montana lawmakers laud as a smaller, safer and more affordable source of energy than the nuclear power plants of the past.

At the same time the House was reviewing a bill sponsored by Rep. Derek Skees, R-Kalispell, to remove restrictions on nuclear development, the Senate was at work on Senate Joint Resolution 3, which directs the state to study advanced nuclear reactors. The resolution appears well-positioned to pass — halfway through the session, SJ 3 has garnered unanimous support in the Senate.

Sponsor Terry Gauthier, R-Helena, becomes audibly excited discussing the measure. He said he sees modern nuclear technology as a way for Montana to send electrons to the energy-thirsty markets of the Pacific Northwest by tying into the high-voltage transmission lines leading out of Colstrip……..

Gauthier is particularly interested in a company called NuScale, based in Portland, Ore., that’s garnered more than $1.3 billion from the federal government to advance its small modular reactor, or SMR, design. It’s the only company that’s received approval from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission for that type of design — a significant milestone on the journey to market……….

Much of the debate about the environmental impact associated with nuclear energy is focused on what to do with the spent fuel. Some kinds of nuclear fuel can remain radioactive for hundreds or thousands of years. The U.S. has yet to arrive at a long-term solution for re-using or storing spent fuel, creating a contentious political issue that’s spanned decades.

As is the case with larger-scale traditional nuclear plants, spent fuel from SMRs remains a “significant issue,” according to Darby.

NuScale’s plan is to store used fuel underwater in a stainless-steel lined concrete pool located onsite for at least five years. They say the pool is designed to withstand “a variety of severe natural and human made phenomena” like earthquakes and aircraft impacts. After the five-year period when the used fuel is both hottest and most radioactive has elapsed, it’s moved to a stainless-steel canister surrounded with concrete that’s designed to contain the radioactivity.

The United States doesn’t have a permanent underground repository for high-level nuclear waste, so those concrete containment vessels generally remain on-site or near the plant they came from. A 33-year-old effort to create such a long-term storage repository northwest of Las Vegas is still subject to heated debate. ……….

Another question hanging over nuclear energy development is the price of building a new plant. It’s not uncommon for new construction costs to exceed $1 billion. Concerns about cost increases led several cities that had committed to participate in NuScale’s demonstration plant in Idaho Falls to pull out of the multi-billion-dollar project last year.

NuScale told Montana Free Press that once production is rolling on their product, it anticipates the facility construction cost to be about $2,850 per kilowatt of producing capacity for its largest, 12-module iteration. For comparison, new construction of a natural gas plant averaged about $837 per kilowatt of capacity in 2018, and wind plants clocked in at $1,382, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Brad Molnar, a Republican senator from Laurel, told MTFP that cost will be an important consideration as the state plots its energy future. He said the study Gauthier is spearheading should involve the Public Service Commission, because it doesn’t make sense to conduct the study without landing on a cost-per-megawatt estimate.

Gauthier knows that nuclear is by no means the least expensive energy source, particularly if calculations are based on a strict dollars-and-cents equation…….

It’s not yet clear if Montana’s 1978 law requiring voter approval before a nuclear energy plant can be built in the state will still be on the books next year. The Legislature is still deciding the fate of HB 273, which would strike that law and remove nuclear projects from the purview of the Major Facility Siting Act.

Sen. Molnar has been asked if he’d carry HB 273 when it’s heard in the Senate, but he said he has reservations about the measure.

“By and large, I’m really hesitant to overturn a [voter] initiative,” he said, adding that the order of operations seems a little off to him.

“First you do the study, then you take action,” he said. “You don’t take action and then do the study.”

As of March 4, both HB 273 and SJ 3 have been transmitted to the Senate and House, respectively, for review. Hearing dates before those chambers’ energy committees have not been set.

March 6, 2021 - Posted by | politics, Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, USA

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