While the media focus on the chaos in American cities and the COVID-19 shutdowns, you might have missed this good news on the energy front: The federal government just approved a new, smaller, safer nuclear power plant design, putting nuclear back on the nation’s menu of energy choices.
It might not seem like much, but until this decade, the last nuclear power plant built in the U.S. was 1977. Today, there are an estimated 96 nuclear power plants producing 20% of all our electricity and half of our non-carbon-based power.
If that sounds impressive, consider this: As recently as the 1990s, we had 116 nuclear plants. Utilities, tired of the non-stop trouble of justifying a perpetual source of clean, CO2-free energy to radical green groups and burdened by enormous regulatory costs, have been decommissioning older plants.
But late last week, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved a new plan for what’s called a “small modular reactor,” or SMR, designed by Portland-based NuScale Power.
Small, yes, but cheaper and safer, too. And it may be an avatar for an avalanche of new nuclear technologies in the works, including thorium and molten-salt reactors that use spent fuel, which will further cut costs and decrease reliance on fossil fuels.
Some of these are well beyond the drafting board stage.
Canada’s Terrestrial Energy has plans to produce 190 megawatts of electricity at a plant in Ontario by 2030. And the price of its energy will be competitive with natural gas, the company says.
TerraPower, with Bill Gates as a founding investor, has designed a sodium-cooled plant that can use spent fuel, depleted uranium, or even unprocessed uranium.
As for NuScale’s SMR, current plans call for Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, a western energy cooperative, to build the SMRs at the Energy Department’s Idaho National Laboratory, a massive 890-square-mile lab and test site.
The first workable model is scheduled to be switched on in 2029. Eleven more reactors would be put into service the following year. Each reactor, according to NuScale Power, can produce roughly 60 megawatts of energy, enough to supply 50,000 homes.
These smaller reactors include self-cooling systems and automatic shutdown features that, along with their reduced size, make the new plants far safer than first-generation nuclear power, and less costly to run. They’re virtually meltdown-proof.
Why focus on nuclear technology?
It’s not cheaper than coal or natural gas or even some renewable sources. At least, not upfront.
But these up-and-coming technologies have the potential to make our energy supply more secure and end blackouts and brownouts, such as those now taking place in California, which has moved to a radical and plainly foolish reliance on unreliable renewable energy.
And over time, new tweaks in the technology will cut costs, especially if the federal government takes its foot off the regulation pedal. Until now, that has been a major impediment, and cost, for nuclear power.
But these new nuclear models do one other very important thing: they make the Democrats’ outrageously costly and non-science based Green New Deal totally unnecessary.
The Green New Deal (GND) proposal put forth in Congress would require utilities to supply “100% of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emissions energy sources.”
What’s left out is that the full cost of such a scheme would be enormous almost beyond reckoning.
The American Action Forum, a respected center-right think tank, estimates costs of as much as $51 trillion to $93 trillion over the next 10 years if the GND is passed. In plainer numbers, that’s about $600,000 per American household.
Liberal economist Noah Smith, a finance professor and columnist for Bloomberg, likewise estimates a $6.6 trillion a year cost for the GND. That’s roughly three times what the U.S. government currently takes in from taxes.
To call the GND economically insane might be an understatement. And yet, an entire American political party and some 600 environmental groups think it’s a great idea. Call it Enviro-Socialism.
The GND does not foresee a nuclear future. We do. Small, technologically advanced nuclear power plants would replace the inefficient, costly, unreliable and wasteful renewable energy schemes at the core of the New Green Deal.
— Written by the I&I Editorial Board