Politics Blog

Wash. Senate Republicans move nuclear agenda forward

News broke last night that the state Senate passed a bill that would define nuclear energy as green.

Senate Bill 5091 is part of a package that would advance the nuclear-energy industry in Washington. Another bill, SB 5114, would give tax breaks to companies in the modular nuclear reactor industry. These and other nuclear-related bills are prime-sponsored by Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick. (Click “Primary Sponsor” in the last link for details.) Adding more nuclear to the state’s energy mix is also supported by Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale.

The 5091 bill would add nuclear to the energy sources that electric utilities offer to customers who volunteer to buy green power. The bill includes a provision that requires utilities to show these customers a breakdown of the green power sources.

“Nuclear energy accounts for 63 percent of carbon-free electricity in the U.S., and people need to know that,” Brown said in a press release.

Ericksen and like-minded senators have said that if the state is to meet carbon-reduction goals established by the 2008 Legislature, then the development of nuclear power, particularly modular nuclear reactors, should be encouraged.

In an interview in Bellingham on March 2, Inslee endorsed the idea with caveats.

“I think that our climate change and ocean acidification problems are so dire, so pressing, so dangerous, that we have to consider any approach that is a low carbon-emitting technology. We need to research it; we need to see if it might work,” Inslee said.

Modular nuclear reactors have the potential to be safer and less expensive, Inslee said.

“It has a long ways to go, frankly,” Inslee said of nuclear power in general. “We’ve got to figure out a disposal system for our waste.”

Inslee said the nuclear industry has been plagued more by not being cost effective than by any threat or perception of danger.

“That’s been the challenge for the nuclear industry, frankly,” Inslee said. “It was way too expensive.”

Ericksen, in response, said the Columbia Generating Station north of Richland has been cost effective. Modular nuclear reactors are a maturing technology that could be commercial within 10 years, Ericksen added. Some companies in Brown’s Tri-Cities district are developing the technology now.

“We’re getting closer and closer to modular nuclear reactors coming online, and Washington is uniquely positioned to do that,” Ericksen said.