The Nuclear-Free Northwest Program of Oregon and Washington PSR strives to protect human and environmental health from the inherent threats posed by nuclear power. Due to the negative impacts on human health caused by uranium mining and processing, working with nuclear fuel, radioactive waste transport and storage, and risk of meltdowns and proliferation, nuclear power presents a public health risk that is far too great to justify its use. Additionally, the high cost of nuclear energy puts an undue burden on ratepayers, particularly those in low-income communities. Renewable energy and energy efficiency can fulfill our electricity needs and mitigate climate change while protecting healthy air, water, and communities.
This year has seen some big and exciting changes for our regional collaboration, formerly known as Oregon and Washington PSR’s Nuclear Power Program. Chuck Johnson, the program’s former director, has moved on to International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), our global affiliate. In January of this year, I assumed Chuck’s former role in alerting the Northwest region to the risks of new and existing nuclear power plants.
Closing the CGS Nuclear Plant
The region’s only commercial nuclear power plant, the Columbia Generating Station (CGS), turns 35 years old this year. Its original license has been extended by 20 years, allowing the plant to legally operate until 2043, which at the age of 60 would make the CGS nine years older than any operating nuclear plant in the world. The extreme heat generated by nuclear fission puts tremendous stress on reactor machinery, requiring expensive maintenance and increasing the risk of dangerous mechanical failure. Despite this, a November 2017 study from Energy + Environmental Economics (E3), commissioned by Public Generating Pool (PGP) in collaboration with the Benton County Public Utility Commission and Energy Northwest, absurdly claims that it will be necessary to operate the CGS until 2050.
This year, the Bonneville Power Administration, which buys CGS power at about $50 per megawatt-hour and markets it at roughly $20/MWh, released a five-year strategic plan calling on the CGS to curb its operating costs. Due to excessive unplanned outages and safety incidents, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission did not remove CGS from its list of plants requiring additional oversight. California announced that the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant will close in 2025, setting the CGS up to become the last commercial nuclear plant on the West Coast. It has never been clearer that this aging, costly, and dangerous plant must be closed as soon as possible.
Small Modular Reactors: The “Clean Coal” of the Nuclear Power Industry
Meanwhile, despite the high economic and societal costs of nuclear power and its hazardous waste, the Oregon-based small modular nuclear reactor company NuScale is pushing hard to build untested plants in Idaho and to define nuclear as a clean piece of the carbon reduction puzzle in the Washington State Legislature.
The Trump Administration wants so badly to breathe new life into the nuclear industry that they sponsored NuScale to represent the U.S. at the 2017 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany, where they sat on a panel next to Peabody Coal promoting “clean coal.” Small modular reactors (SMRs) are being marketed as the “clean coal” of the nuclear industry: different packaging, same dirty, expensive waste.
No nuclear power reactors, small or large, are needed to curb climate change. Native Americans and other indigenous people around the world have long been disproportionately impacted by uranium mining, and environmental justice movements nationwide call for an end to the extractive energy economy (meaning fossil fuels and uranium).
Join us in building a Nuclear-Free Northwest by emailing [email protected]. If you live in the Eugene area, join our Nuclear-Free Eugene campaign to secure support from the Eugene Water & Electric Board to close the Columbia Generating Station.
Damon Motz-Storey, Clean Energy Organizer