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Propaganda drive: Nuclear Power 2.0 Eyes Opportunity, Steep Climb in Coal Country

Daniel Moore, Bloomberg Law, 19 Dec 22

The nuclear power industry sees its future in coal country……….

But realizing that vision—now backed by the Biden administration and Congress, with billions earmarked for the plan in last year’s historic infrastructure law—depends on winning over some of the most nuclear-skeptical places in the country. So the Energy Department is on an education mission to gain local support across rural America for what it believes can be a nuclear revival.

“We really, over time, have underestimated the role that social science, political science, sociology, psychology, human geography can all play in our decision-making,” explains Kathryn Huff, the department’s 36-year-old assistant secretary of nuclear energy.

……….. About 80% of nearly 400 operating or shuttered coal power plant sites across the country could be converted to nuclear power plant sites, the Energy Department estimated in September. 

………… But in West Virginia, which has no operating nukes, only 38% of residents support building new reactors, according to a public opinion project by the University of Oklahoma and University of Michigan. The state has the second-smallest portion of people who say they see a benefit from nuclear, according to the project, which was funded by the Energy Department and pulled data from 2006 to 2020.

……….. SMRs are key to changing that mindset, with the selling point that they’re not your parent’s nuclear reactors……………………..

A trio of academic studies with 30 researchers will guide the department’s nuclear energy office on community outreach at a DOE-funded test reactor near a shuttered coal plant in Wyoming; a new siting process for temporary nuclear waste storage facilities; and advanced nuclear possibilities in the Arctic, where past nuclear tests have generated deep distrust among indigenous groups.

A trio of academic studies with 30 researchers will guide the department’s nuclear energy office on community outreach at a DOE-funded test reactor near a shuttered coal plant in Wyoming; a new siting process for temporary nuclear waste storage facilities; and advanced nuclear possibilities in the Arctic, where past nuclear tests have generated deep distrust among indigenous groups.

………………… spent nuclear fuel requires on-site storage in bulky steel casks, while a permanent home requires geologic assessments spanning millions of years. And when aging plants do close—as 13 plants have in the last decade—cleanup crews must carefully dismantle the components.

………… The nuclear waste problem is a “gaping hole in the ship of the US nuclear industry,” said Edward McGinnis, who spent almost 30 years at the Energy Department 

……. Without a permanent home for waste, “then it’s very difficult to say we should have another generation of nuclear power because we don’t know how to solve the problem of waste from the first generation,” said Tom Isaacs, a nuclear waste expert….

Clean Energy Goal

Lyman from the Union of Concerned Scientists said the number of new local jobs that would come from SMRs are overstated, in part because the largely premanufactured reactors are much smaller and come with lower costs than existing reactors. But he said the unproven plants would still bring potential environmental hazards.

………..Finding markets is crucial for advanced reactors, which hope to roll out by the end of the decade. The department plans to plow as much as $3.2 billion into demonstrating reactors by TerraPower in Wyoming and X-energy in Washington state.

………………………………………….. Environmental groups are sharply split on the issue, said Gary Zuckett, who lobbied for the 1996 West Virginia law that banned nuclear construction until a permanent waste storage facility was established. Zuckett, executive director of West Virginia Citizen Action, considers himself somewhere “in the middle,” as he believes safely operating nuclear plants should stay online to maintain zero-emissions power until more solar and wind can be built.

But communities are concerned about plugging reactors into coal sites, he said.

“I personally don’t see nuclear as our savior,” Zuckett said. “We don’t have a safe, permanent repository for all of this high-level nuclear waste that will be deadly for generations, and so should we really be making more of this?”

Federal incentives could be poured into wind and solar, which are ready to deploy now, said Jim Kotcon, an associate professor at West Virginia University and a leader of the state’s Sierra Club chapter.

“We should adopt the fastest, cheapest, safest and cleanest sources first,” Kotcon said. “Nuclear is none of those.”

……………………………………….. To tackle waste siting, Oklahoma and Michigan researchers hope to define a process for winning consent from communities to host a hypothetical temporary waste site. The DOE is offering $16 million for additional consent-based siting efforts and assessing nearly 1,700 pages of comments in response to a request for information.

The amount of waste SMR generate is the subject of debate—a controversial study in May found small reactors could generate more waste than the industry has led people to believe.

………………………………… Energy Department officials express optimism the appeal to community engagement will work………………………..

The department “will have momentum by the time this administration is done,” Huff said. “It doesn’t matter what political winds shift.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Moore in Washington at dmoore1@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergindustry.com  https://news.bloomberglaw.com/environment-and-energy/nuclear-power-2-0-eyes-opportunity-steep-climb-in-coal-country

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December 19, 2022 - Posted by | Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, USA

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