Tuesday, November 30, 2021
Nov. 30, 2021

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Oregon group: New nuclear reactor would create too much waste

Plan would add facility to polluted Hanford reservation


RICHLAND — An Oregon environmental group is objecting to Energy Northwest’s plan to place a small modular power reactor on its leased land on the Hanford nuclear reservation near the Columbia River just north of Richland.

Earlier this year, Energy Northwest, which operates the Columbia Generating Station nuclear power plant near Richland, announced plans with X-energy and Grant County PUD to add a small modular reactor near its current, full-size commercial nuclear power reactor.

Columbia Riverkeeper says in a new report that it is concerned about the used radioactive fuel the proposed new reactor would generate.

The United States now lacks a deep geological repository for used commercial nuclear power plant fuel, after work stopped to develop the repository at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain.

The used fuel for the Columbia Generating Station, the Northwest’s only commercial nuclear power reactor, is stored in 19-foot-tall concrete and steel cylinders on a reinforced concrete pad near the reactor until the nation has a repository.

The small nuclear reactor planned by Energy Northwest is a high-temperature, gas-cooled Xe-100 reactor, which could be the nation’s first operating advanced nuclear reactor. The 80-megawatt reactor could be operating in 2028.

The project, with modular reactors added, could be scaled up to a 320-megawatt reactor.

The Columbia Generating Station has the capability to produce 1,207 megawatts of electricity.

Columbia Riverkeeper says the Xe-100 reactor would generate more used fuel than the conventional large reactor per the power output of each.

It also is concerned about siting the plant on Energy Northwest’s leased land at the Department of Energy’s Hanford nuclear reservation in Eastern Washington, which was developed for wartime weapons production rather than commercial power production.

The 580-square-mile DOE nuclear reservation was used to produce two-thirds of the nation’s plutonium from World War II through the Cold War.

Now, about $2.5 billion is being spent annually to clean up radioactive and chemical contamination left from the project.

DOE is focused now on 56 million gallons of radioactive and chemical waste in underground tanks after chemical processes were used to separate small quantities of plutonium from irradiated uranium fuel.

Used fuel from commercial nuclear power reactors remains in a solid form rather than being chemically processed.

“Adding more nuclear infrastructure — a small modular nuclear reactor — at Hanford without any long-term plan for the radioactive waste should be a nonstarter,” said Lauren Goldberg, legal director with Columbia Riverkeeper.

The waste from a small modular reactor would burden future generations, said Miya Burke, the lead author of Columbia Riverkeeper’s report “Q&A: Nuclear Energy Development Threatens the Columbia River.”

The report quotes the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, which have treaty rights at Hanford, as opposing new nuclear missions on the Hanford site.