Nealey authors bill seeking expansion of nuclear energy in Washington

As the state’s energy demands continue to grow while baseload electrical generation from coal and other fossil fuels is discouraged, Rep. Terry Nealey says nuclear energy is the cleanest, most efficient way to replace that lost power.

Nealey, R-Dayton, has introduced legislation that would expedite the regulatory processes and provide incentives for expansion of nuclear-generated energy in Washington state.

“We are rapidly reaching a critical point in time that will require us to determine how to meet Washington’s future energy needs. As our state’s population grows, so will demands for additional electricity. Consumers are using more electricity than ever to operate computers, televisions, server farms, and other equipment, and in the future, our state will be transitioning toward electric vehicles. At the same time, there’s a strong push to move away from coal and natural gas, which have been important sources of baseload generation, and toward clean, renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar and biomass,” said Nealey. “However, expansion of these new sources alone will not be sufficient to supplant fossil fuel baseload generation because wind and solar are intermittent. The answer is to expand nuclear energy, which exists as one of the most reliable and clean non-emitting electrical baseload generation sources. This legislation brings expansion of nuclear power into the conversation.”

House Bill 1513 would create a joint legislative task force on nuclear energy to study the feasibility of pursuing additional nuclear generated power in Washington. The study would include: the use of new nuclear energy generation technologies; methods of recycling, converting and disposing of spent fuel; a comparison of kilowatt-hour costs between nuclear and other low-carbon generation sources; review of federal incentives to support advanced nuclear power projects in Washington; integration of additional nuclear generation into the electric grid; maximizing public and private investment in nuclear generation to reduce ratepayer risk; and quantification of greenhouse gas reductions resulting from nuclear generation.

The nine-member task force would comprise one legislator from each caucus in the state House and Senate, a representative from the governor’s office, and four others appointed by the governor. The bill requires the study to be submitted to the Legislature by Dec. 1, 2011.

Nealey says it’s important to begin the conversation of future energy generation now, because it will take time to build the infrastructure necessary to support nuclear-power generation.

“If coal and gas-fired plants are discontinued, there is no way we can meet our future energy needs through wind and solar alone. Utility companies have said we need more baseload generation because wind and solar are so intermittent that they cannot rely on it as a consistent source of energy. Hydro continues to be an important part of providing for our state’s electrical generation needs, but to date, it is still not legally considered in our state as a ‘green’ source of renewable energy. So we’re going to need another reliable source and that should be nuclear,” said Nealey. “Along with hydro, nuclear is the cleanest, consistent source of energy we have.”

The measure would provide an expedited permit process for a nuclear energy application, if the governor and Legislature agree to the request. The state would also commit to constructing at least one nuclear energy facility by 2020, three by 2030, and five by 2040.

“Some have been reluctant to discuss nuclear energy as an option because its reputation was severely tarnished years ago with the disasters at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. People are still fearful, but they shouldn’t be any more. Technology has substantially advanced since 25 years ago. There’s a newer, better concept of smaller module units that put out up to 400 megawatts. It’s less expensive than the old, huge models, and nuclear power is safer, and it’s clean generation,” said Nealey. “Nuclear has become a primary source of electrical generation in Europe and other parts of the globe, but we continue to straggle behind here in the U.S., unnecessarily, because of the tarnished reputation of years ago.

“It’s also important the public doesn’t confuse this with the issue of weapons-grade nuclear waste, which is what has created environmental concerns at Hanford. Nuclear-energy generation creates a very small amount of waste, which is safely handled and stored, and not a threat to the environment,” he added.

Nealey suggests new nuclear plants could be constructed at Hanford, which already operates a nuclear energy facility on site. He said transmission lines are present on the site to accept the new generation. He added the small amount of waste generated could be stored at the site, just as it is now.

“The issue of waste is overplayed. In the 28 years since Energy Northwest has been producing nuclear power at the Columbia Generating Station, only 26 steel and concrete canisters of waste have been produced. They are stored outside under heavy security at Hanford in indestructible containers. For now, it’s the best, safest and most proper way of handling the spent fuel,” noted Nealey.

The 16th District lawmaker is hopeful his legislation will spark thoughtful debate and a serious discussion over how Washington will meet its future energy needs.

“We live in a high-tech economy dependent on increasing energy supplies to sustain its growth. If we’re to move toward cleaner energy sources, we have to be ready to replace that baseload generation if it is lost from those abandoned sources. It makes sense that nuclear should be a key component to supply the increased demands. Let’s have this conversation now,” concluded Nealey.

The measure has been referred to the Technology, Energy and Communications Committee.

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Washington State House Republican Communications