Tri-City Herald: Small modular reactors deserve informed study

The Mid-Columbia ought to be an energy mecca for the state and nation. We have the resources — physical space, a rich nuclear history and intellectual talent. It’s a future worth pursuing.

To be a successful energy hub, we need several forms of energy to round out a smart portfolio. Small modular nuclear reactors ought to be on that list. They could be a boon for our community and the rest of the world.

A Washington nuclear energy task force has been looking at the advantages and challenges of building small modular reactors. Area leaders see a future in not only building a small reactor here, but ultimately to become a site to assemble small reactors that would be shipped around the world.

The committee was scheduled to disband this month, but the members — Democrats and Republicans from both houses of the Legislature — agree there are more questions to consider.

They’re right.

It’s a complex question, and it deserves solid, science-based answers. Since the task force hasn’t been able to fully consider the matter, it’s worth taking the time to do so.

Certainly there are risks associated with nuclear energy. But there also are advantages.

Nuclear is a clean, renewable source of energy. In a world where greenhouse gases are of concern, nuclear is looking better all the time.

For example, a study last year commissioned by the Tri-City Development Council found attractive benefits to installing a small reactor at Hanford that could be used to produce electricity for the vitrification plant. The result: It could save money and reduce greenhouse gases. The cost savings could be $300 million and it could prevent burning 45,000 gallons of diesel a day.

Those are attractive numbers for just one station.

Multiply that result by the number of reactors we could build and ship to other countries.

China and other Asian countries that depend heavily on burning coal could bring reactors online and greatly decrease their greenhouse gas emissions.

Some of the questions still on the table are lifecycle costs of the small reactors and where will the waste be stored.

Issues the task force could look at next include the potential for manufacturing reactors or components in the state, the use of existing assets around the state and the feasibility and cost effectiveness of the technology.

Certainly assembling small reactors would create jobs in the Mid-Columbia, but it has the potential to boost the economy for the rest of Washington as well.

The committee needs an extension from the Legislature to continue meeting and consider some of these possibilities and lawmakers should grant that request in the upcoming session.

We look forward to seeing what the science bears out.