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Eastern WA expected to be site of a new small nuclear reactor by 2030

By Annette Cary, Tri-City Herald
Published: July 20, 2023, 7:34am

KENNEWICK — Energy Northwest has signed an agreement with the goal of having an advanced small nuclear reactor producing power in Eastern Washington by the end of 2030.

It could potentially deploy as many as 12 Xe-100 reactors, together capable of generating up to 960 megawatts of electricity, Energy Northwest said in an announcement Wednesday of a joint development agreement with X-energy Reactor Co.

Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., praised the planned project, saying that advanced nuclear technology is “bringing next-generation development to the marketplace, strengthening our nation’s energy security and providing economic security for businesses in the Tri-Cities and beyond.”

Energy Northwest has operated the Columbia Generating Station, the Northwest’s only commercial nuclear power plant, about 10 miles north of Richland since 1984. The plant produces 1,207 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power about 1 million homes.

The new reactors would be on leased land at a site adjacent to Columbia Generating Station. It is on land at the Hanford nuclear reservation that was not used by the federal government for weapons work.

“As the Northwest region of the United States pursues a future clean energy grid, it is clear it will need new sources of dependable, carbon-free power,” said Bob Schuetz, chief executive of Energy Northwest.

X-energy announced in April 2021 that it would work with Energy Northwest and Grant County PUD to develop, build and operate an 80-megawatt reactor near Richland. It was proposed as the first Xe-100 reactor in the nation.

But in March 2023 X-energy said would instead work with Dow to demonstrate its first grid-scale advanced nuclear reactor in North America at one of Dow’s U.S. Gulf Coast sites.

It has since announced that Dow will use the reactor at its UCC Seadrift Operations site in Texas, where basic and specialty chemical products are made.

The joint development agreement with Energy Northwest would make Washington the second location in North America with an Xe-100 reactor project.

“Energy Northwest is a leader in building the clean energy grid, and the advancement of our partnership is expected to help meet growing commercial and household demand for reliable carbon-free energy across the state of Washington,” said J. Clay Sell, chief executive of X-energy.

“Energy Northwest’s experience as a leading nuclear operator in the region uniquely positions it to showcase the benefits and scalability of advanced nuclear,” he said.

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Backing up intermittent clean energy

Each Xe-100 module can provide 80 megawatts of full-time electricity or 200 megawatts of high-temperature steam for large regional electricity providers or industrial manufacturing systems.

Module components can be manufactured and construction done offsite.

The modules could then be shipped by truck, with electricity production scaled up as needed by adding additional modules. The standardized construction is intended to save time and to provide more predictable and manageable construction costs.

The smaller size of the nuclear power modules and the ability to quickly ramp up and down would complement intermittent renewable resources, such as wind and solar, that rely on weather conditions to generate power,

X-energy says it has a simple design for the high-temperature, gas-cooled reactor with meltdown-proof “walk-away” safety. Its fuel will withstand temperatures about four times greater than conventional nuclear fuel, it said.

“Energy Northwest’s mission is to provide the region with clean, reliable and affordable electricity, and X-energy’s innovative advanced reactor technology will be a valuable addition to our existing portfolio of carbon-free electric generating resources,” Schuetz said.

In addition to the Columbia Generating Station, Energy Northwest owns and operates hydroelectric, solar, battery storage and wind projects.

In 2021 the Department of Energy’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program awarded X-energy $1.2 billion in cost-sharing funding to develop, license, build and demonstrate an advance reactor and fuel fabrication facility by the end of the decade.

X-energy plans to bring what it learns on that project in Texas to Washington state.

Why Washington state?

Sell said in 2021 that a critical element in X-energy interest in the Tri-Cities area was the way the market in Washington state is being shaped by the Clean Energy Transformation Act. The act commits the state’s electric utilities to fully transition to clean, renewable and non-emitting resources by 2045.

He also likes the Tri-Cities support for nuclear energy.

“This community knows about nuclear power. This community has a proud tradition,” he said in 2021.

Work to bring more jobs related to nuclear power to the Tri-Cities area also was good news for union workers.

“Today’s historic announcement between Energy Northwest and X-energy will not only secure Washington’s ability to provide clean, affordable and dispatchable energy throughout our region, but will supply job opportunities for hundreds of our members and their families,” said Nickolas Bumpaous, president of the Central Washington Building and Construction Trades Union.

Energy Northwest now employs about 1,000 workers.

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