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Friday, March 1, 2024
March 1, 2024

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Clark Public Utilities board decides to join nuclear power feasibility study

Commissioner Barnes: 'I believe that (small modular reactors), paired with wind and solar, provide the hybrid system that the Northwest is looking for'

By , Columbian staff writer

Despite several public objections decrying nuclear energy in the region, the Clark Public Utilities Board of Commissioners unanimously approved participation in a feasibility study for a small nuclear reactor development Tuesday morning.

The nuclear energy company, Energy Northwest, sought $200,000 from Clark Public Utilities at a commissioner meeting last month.

The Energy Northwest study, poised to examine small modular reactors in the region, will look into technologies, risks and pathways, costs, risk mitigation and funding identification.

The study will take into consideration no bond default, a successful regional clean energy transition, regional power needs for beyond 2030, cost effectiveness and risk mitigation for the participating utilities and Energy Northwest.

While two of the commissioners voted to delay the decision at the May meeting, they all agreed to move forward with the utility’s participation in the study this time.

“This debate to me was never about nuclear power,” Commissioner Nancy Barnes said. “I am a believer that we cannot reach the aggressive mandates that have been set by the state of Washington without a clean baseload source of power.”

Barnes went on to say that there are more than 400 nuclear reactors worldwide, producing 10 percent of the world’s energy.

“I believe that (small modular reactors), paired with wind and solar, provide the hybrid system that the Northwest is looking for,” Barnes added.

“It is important to realize that no matter how much solar and wind we build, we don’t have a 24/7 resource from those,” added Commissioner Jane Van Dyke.

The decision to participate in the study was not a commitment to the project, said Van Dyke.

“But I think it is important for us to continue to get good information and more information about the feasibility of this project,” she said.

Numerous members of the public spoke out against building nuclear reactors in the region, citing issues with nuclear waste disposal, safety and a commitment to other renewable resources instead.

“These smaller reactors, just because they’re smaller, doesn’t mean that they’re safer,” said Dr. Sharon Bucher, a local retired pediatrician.

Vancouver resident Cathryn Chudy commented that there are still more questions than answers with the proposal, adding that she said it “still feels rushed.”

“On the economics, unspecified timeline, lack of clear guarantees for Clark ratepayer benefit and the opportunity cost for investment in other available renewable resources, I urge our commissioners to vote no on this today,” said Chudy.

Contributing to the study means the utility will not only receive information obtained through the study but will also get priority status for the facility’s future power sales agreements — if it’s built.

Energy Northwest could bring the small modular reactors online as soon as 2029 if the reactors prove to be viable.