Shameless in Seattle

If the committee entertains such a resolution, Energy Northwest will be invited to participate in the discussion, (committee staffer Ted) Virdone said. At that point, “it will be essential for both sides to get a fair hearing.”  –Clearing Up, 2014

The Seattle City Council is set to vote today on a resolution that challenges the city’s reputation to be both progressive and environmentally friendly.

The resolution restricts the use of new nuclear energy by the city’s utility, should new nuclear become available (see below for more on that). The city currently receives more than 4 percent of its power (carbon-free) from Columbia Generating Station (which is more than it gets directly from wind power). Two years ago, a version of the resolution that called for shutting down Columbia would not fly so the council’s Energy and Environment Committee encouraged anti-nuclear groups to go back to the drawing board and focus on the future.

What was staged last week was another lesson in a strangely anti-democratic (and anti-science) process that grips this committee every time nuclear energy is the topic. The committee invited representatives from anti-nuclear energy groups to the table – but did not want to hear from any opposing views. Yet, like daisies growing through cracks in a cement sidewalk, several pro-nuclear voices were heard during the legally required public comment period (thank goodness for the law).

What the supporters said was informative and truthful – and the snickering heard in the background during one such statement spoke volumes.

So, sitting around a table with no opposing voices, committee members laughed and joked while discussing the prospect of nearly 1,000 Washington residents losing their jobs (including hundreds of union members and veterans).

Those jobs aren’t in Seattle, after all. Even State Rep. Gerry Pollett joined in, though making clear he was wearing his “other” hat, as head of anti-nuke Heart of America Northwest, and seemed to have no issues participating in such a one-sided hearing.

Where the power comes from

The resolution doesn’t mention Columbia by name, but Columbia was the focus of the entire meeting regardless. No one from Energy Northwest received an invitation to present any facts, unfortunately, because facts were sorely needed especially surrounding the clean air benefits of nuclear power.

Would it have mattered?

One councilwoman summed it up thusly when talking about moving the climate change discussion in a more “progressive” manner:

“…which is a hard thing to do given who we’re dealing with in terms of folks out in Central Washington…”

Well.

Had the Seattle form of “progressive” not been so exclusionary, she might have heard about the growing number of world organizations, governments and environmentalists embracing nuclear energy. Even from some of us here in the hinterlands. Yes, we consider ourselves environmentalists and walk the walk to boot.

All reputable organizations involved in the global climate discussion have come to the same conclusion. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, International Energy Agency and Energy Information Administration, as well as many individual scientists and environmental advocates, have said that the U.S. and world cannot achieve meaningful reduction in carbon emissions without nuclear energy.

In President Barack Obama’s 2011 Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future he writes, “…beyond our efforts to reduce our dependence on oil, we must focus on expanding cleaner sources of electricity, including renewables like wind and solar, as well as clean coal, natural gas and nuclear power – keeping America on the cutting edge of clean energy technology so that we can build a 21st century clean energy economy and win the future.”

Last year, Gov. Jay Inslee issued a proclamation during Nuclear Science Week in Washington. The proclamation reads in part, “…nuclear energy in our state and nation is helping to reduce carbon emissions and plays a vital part in the state’s diverse mix of environmentally responsible energy generating resources…”

Last month Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., weighed in during a Department of Energy summit in Washington, D.C. on the need to keep our existing nuclear fleet going. “Nuclear energy provides critical baseload power [and] more than 60 percent of our nation’s carbon-free electric generation. Most Americans don’t realize that and I was one of them. When it comes to carbon-free, baseload power, nuclear is it,” Booker said.

Our own Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., understands the issue as well. “It is vital that the United States continue to lead the world in clean energy, and nuclear may prove to be a key a component in this effort,” Cantwell said during a hearing of the Senate’s Energy committee on advanced nuclear technology in Washington, D.C.

Eco-warrior Stewart Brand, author of 2009’s Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto and founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, in 2010 said, “I surprised myself. I used to be, you know, pretty much a knee-jerk environmentalist on this particular subject. And then because of climate change I re-investigated the matter and discovered that I’d been misled in many of the details on how nuclear works.”

How about Michael Shellenberger, co-founder of the Breakthrough Institute and Time Magazine’s 2008 “Hero of the Environment.” He is one of the contributors to The Ecomodernist Manifesto, which was written last year in collaboration with Brand and 17 other notable scholars, scientists and environmentalists. (One of those was Robert Stone, the Oscar- and Emmy-nominated director of the “fiercely independent” documentary, Pandora’s Promise, which tells the anti- to pro-nuclear conversion stories of leading environmentalists.) While acknowledging the cultural barriers to nuclear power, the authors assert that nuclear “represents the only present-day zero-carbon technology with the demonstrated ability to meet most, if not all, of the energy demands of a modern economy.”


Think about this. World-renown climate scientist James Hansen would not be able to get a seat at the table of the Seattle City Council Energy and Environment committee because of his pro-nuclear energy position. And he’s not even from Central Washington!


At a time when the world’s leading scientific institutions and many here at home are telling us climate change is a real and immediate threat – and that humans are a significant cause of that threat – Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Sierra Club et al. are asking the Seattle City Council to denounce the technology that currently provides more than 60 percent of our nation’s carbon-free electricity (20 percent of total U.S. generation). Is that the national leadership role Seattle – the city that championed the Kyoto Protocols – is seeking to establish?

Leading from behind?

Seattle wants to dramatically reduce city sources of greenhouse gases to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. The city hired experts from the Stockholm Environmental Institute to see if it could be done. They said it could, so the city is aggressively going after that goal. One of those experts at SEI is Karl Hallding, a co-author of Beyond Paris: Using Climate Change Scenarios to Manage Risk. In 2014 Hallding, an expert on China’s oppressive energy pollution problem, said “an interesting sign in the sky is that … the share of thermal power, most of which comes from coal … that came on line in China in 2013 fell to around half for the first time thanks to the growth in alternative energy sources – hydro, wind, solar and nuclear.” Perhaps an SEI business card is still lying on someone’s desk at Seattle City Hall. Now would be a good time, prior to today’s full council vote, to give SEI a call for a brief education on nuclear energy’s important role in achieving a clean energy future.

It’s always refreshing to see city governments do right by their citizens. In this case, Seattle, make some phone calls to people who have higher-education degrees and have published on this topic – a proper balance of pro and con – and ask them to come speak to you. Include them in the public dialogue. Then decide.

Energy Northwest has a vision for nuclear power in our region, but this vision does not include new nuclear generation in Washington during the foreseeable future. Our state simply doesn’t need the power, let alone the massive amounts of power that would come from a new single nuclear reactor (the Columbia Generating Station reactor is the third largest producer of electricity in Washington, behind Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams).

The Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, however, is looking for clean, baseload (think “always on”) power to replace coal plants in their service territory, and that power may come from a small modular nuclear facility in Idaho. Their only other option for baseload power is natural gas, but “clean” natural gas emits 60 percent as much carbon as coal, so not nearly as attractive as carbon-free nuclear. We’d like to see the manufacturing portion of this project (a first-of-its-kind facility with global orders to follow) – and the thousands of associated jobs – end up here in Washington.

Fairness is fine

We are very happy to be contributing to Seattle’s boast as “The Nation’s Greenest Utility” and truly do not want any special favors from the committee or anyone else. The power from Columbia Generating Station goes to 92 utilities in six states. Seattle is one of them.

We are proud to be part of a Northwest energy mix that is among the cleanest in the world. Nuclear energy, as a safe, reliable and cost-effective generation resource, fits nicely with this mix. But that’s a common sense view, not an ideological one.

(Posted by Mike Paoli and John Dobken)

Curiosity and Carbon – Discussing Nuclear Energy with CASEnergy’s Ron Kirk

Ron Kirk was curious.

As Co-Chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, Kirk had visited a half-dozen states to talk about the benefits of nuclear energy and everywhere he went people enthusiastically asked him about these things called small modular reactors.

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Ambassador Ron Kirk

Which is why when the opportunity to visit Oregon presented itself Kirk was eager to make the trip. “I have been wanting to come out here to learn about SMRs. I had to come see it for myself,” Kirk told me.

Oregon is home to NuScale Power, the leading player in the U.S. small modular reactor arena. NuScale, with offices in Corvallis and Portland, employs about 600 people and anticipates submitting its SMR design certification to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission later this year.

NuScale’s Dr. Jose Reyes and Mike McGough led Kirk on a tour of NuScale research facilities on Oregon State University’s campus, including the Integral System Test facility, a working prototype of the NuScale reactor design.

But with Kirk, President Obama’s former trade ambassador and past mayor of Dallas, the discussion inevitably makes its way from technology to policy, specifically policies that govern how this country will generate low-carbon energy into the future.

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Ron Kirk, left, speaks with NuScale’s Dr. Jose Reyes at the NuScale facilities on the OSU campus.

Kirk was surprised to learn about Oregon’s moratorium (as it were) on new nuclear energy projects. Passed by voters in 1980 (the year after Three Mile Island), Measure 7 basically says there can be no new nuclear energy plants in the state until there is a permanent federal repository for used nuclear fuel storage. Any new nuclear plant proposed would also have to be approved by a majority of Oregon voters.

Kirk says that was then and this is now.

“Literally, you have the world coming here because of this incredible, potentially game-changing technology that came out of Oregon State,” Kirk said. “It’s going to be built elsewhere and deployed elsewhere and I’m just stunned that Oregon provided all the intellectual fuel and capital in what could be a game-changer in the war on carbon emissions and it’s not going to be deployed in the state.

“This is the equivalent of saying we produced the scientists who discovered penicillin and the state saying, ‘sorry, we passed a law that says you can’t use it here.’”

Addressing the mythology

Ambassador Kirk quickly discovered after joining CASEnergy that when it comes to nuclear, one spends a lot of time dispelling the myths and misconceptions before the conversation can progress to the benefits of nuclear as a generation resource.

One of the myths most in need of dispelling, in Kirk’s view, is that nuclear energy can’t help with climate change.

Indeed, a recent poll by the Nuclear Energy Institute found that 70 percent of respondents did not know that nuclear energy is the largest source of clean air energy in the U.S.

“Nuclear energy is the workhorse of clean energy,” Kirk explains. “You just can’t get around the fact that two-thirds of our carbon-free energy in this country comes from nuclear energy. That doesn’t make you anti-wind or anti-solar, we love those. But you simply cannot build enough wind and solar to replace the benefit that nuclear contributes to our carbon reduction strategy, both existing and going forward.”

Which is one reason he questions why a state like Oregon would essentially turn its back on a resource that has so much potential for providing carbon-free, full-time electricity.

“For Oregon to justifiably pride itself on its commitment to the environment, I just find it a little incongruous that they can’t find a way to square with that, the humility to say ‘maybe we had very legitimate reasons for the moratorium that went into place years ago. But today, knowing what we know now, let’s have an intelligent debate about that and revisit that,’” Kirk said.

Ron Kirk and Student

Ron Kirk speaks to a student at Portland State University.

As in Oregon and elsewhere, Kirk also tackles head-on the myth that nuclear waste, or used nuclear fuel, is an issue that would prevent more nuclear energy facilities from coming online. Kirk says the real issue with nuclear waste is the poor political discussion about it that has taken place for decades.

“We don’t have a (technical) challenge with nuclear waste because we know how to store nuclear fuel. We could recycle it. But the truth is nuclear fuel can be stored safely on site for 100 years. That’s not a reason to not deploy nuclear going forward,” Kirk said.

“If you had the fullness of the debate, people would see the nuclear waste issue is more of a red herring than it is a reason to not go forward with embracing nuclear energy.

“Our message is our nation is richly blessed to have a diversity of energy resources, and a non-carbon diversity of energy resources. Where we’ve gotten into trouble is when we try to arbitrarily pick winners and losers.”

Looking to the future

As the former U.S. trade representative, Kirk has seen the world. He has seen parts of the world that aren’t so abundantly equipped with rich energy resources. And it’s made an impression on him.

“When you travel around the world and you see what it’s like to grow an economy, operate a medical system, without the benefits of a reliable energy system, you come to realize we’re so blessed in America,” Kirk said. “In Dallas, we had the only person die of Ebola in the U.S. The real tragedy of that story, if you’ve been to the Ivory Coast and Africa, that’s not a story of infectious disease, that’s the story of the tragedy of living in the 21st century in a society that doesn’t have access to clean water and power. If they had those two things you don’t have an Ebola crisis. You can’t run research in hospitals if you don’t have those two elements.”

Kirk mentioned that on his visits to developing countries the Secret Service wouldn’t let him take the elevator for fear the power could go out at any minute, potentially stranding the group.

“When we were in office, India had a brownout that affected a third of the country. I had to remind my daughters that a third of India is almost all of North America. The mayhem and anger across the U.S. if we didn’t have power for 10 days? Our kids think it’s a birthright to wake up and plug in their smart phones and iPads and laptops. Our kids’ rooms suck more energy than our entire homes did growing up!”

It’s for all those reasons that Kirk says choices and decisions about where we get our electricity in the future need to be made now and made rationally.

“The time to start thinking about energy isn’t going to be 10 years from now when Vermont says maybe we shouldn’t have shut that plant down. You can’t call Wal-Mart and say we need a 1,000 megawatt electricity facility. These are decisions that require years of planning and design and billions of dollars in investment. America has been fueled, our growth has been fueled, by decisions that were made about clean water and energy 30, 40, 50 years ago. It’s up to our generation now to make sure we’re going to have the power, the infrastructure, to continue to drive our economy in the future.”

Optimistic about nuclear energy

Kirk sees reason for optimism concerning nuclear energy. The current energy debate is closely linked to reducing carbon-emissions, and that plays right into the need for more nuclear. He also sees younger generations making that linkage. Couple that with an embracing of technology and a growth of employment opportunities in nuclear energy, that bodes well for changing opinions among Millennials.

He also sees a change at the highest levels of government around the world.

“That diversity of hydro, wind, solar and nuclear is what our global leaders embraced in Paris (at the climate talks). They wanted to give nations the flexibility and very much over weighted it to not just renewables, but non-carbon sources. If it makes sense for India and it makes sense for China, which are two of the largest carbon-emitting nations, then it makes sense for the United States.

“Our president and our Energy secretary have embraced nuclear and amended the federal rules to say we are getting our energy from non-carbon emitting sources and I would hope Oregon would see the wisdom of that and soon follow suit.”

(Posted by John Dobken)

Analysis finds EN has lowest nuclear fuel costs

An analysis published this week in Platts’ Nuclear Fuel found Energy Northwest’s Columbia Generating Station had the lowest nuclear fuel cost of 28 plants surveyed across the country. Columbia’s fuel cost for fiscal year 2013 was 5.99 mills per kilowatt-hour of generation. A mill is a 10th of a cent. The average for the 28 plants surveyed is 8.16 mills per kwh, according to Platts.

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New nuclear fuel assemblies are inspected as they arrive at Columbia Generating Station.

“The plants reported their fuel costs either on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Form 1 or to Platts. These costs take into account such fuel-related expenses as the cost of uranium, conversion, enrichment services and the fabricated cost of the fuel, as well as the amortized value of all fuel in the reactor core that year and payments to the Nuclear Waste Fund,” Platts wrote in the article.

Energy Northwest financial data shows even lower nuclear fuel costs for Columbia in fiscal 2014 and fiscal 2015, 5.45 mills and 3.39 mills per kwh, respectively.

Columbia Generating Station, an 1,190-megawatt boiling water reactor, produces enough electricity to power a city the size of Seattle and is the third largest generator of electricity in Washington state. All of Columbia’s electricity is sold at-cost to Bonneville Power Administration. Ninety-two Northwest utilities receive a percentage of its output.

Energy Northwest’s historic low fuel costs can be directly attributed to the management of the nuclear fuels program, which looks for innovative ways to reduce costs.

Brent Ridge edit

Brent Ridge, EN chief financial officer.

“The Platts analysis confirms that the strategic moves we have made as an organization regarding our fuel management program are paying off for Northwest ratepayers,” Energy Northwest chief financial officer Brent Ridge said. “The uranium tails transaction completed in 2012 will only serve to continue this industry-leading trend in low fuel costs for Columbia.”

Energy Northwest began looking at the pursuit of recycling depleted uranium contained in the Department of Energy’s stockpiles in 2003 and the initial efforts led to the Uranium Tails Pilot Program, a demonstration program designed to determine if the DOE stockpiles could be successfully reused. The pilot program ran from May 2005 through December of 2006 and was successful in every aspect. Energy Northwest received 1,940 metric tons of natural uranium from the pilot, which was placed into inventory allowing the agency to avoid purchasing uranium during the historic price run up in that period.

The 2012 tails program was a larger follow-on program that again will help Energy Northwest control costs for the region’s ratepayers. The benefits of that program – less financial risk due to future fuel cost uncertainty, and lower fuel costs on an expected-value basis – are being achieved.The transaction increased rate stability by removing eight years of cost risk from Columbia’s fuel budget, and the transaction continues to have positive value, resulting in lower rates.

EN Uranium Product

EN uranium tails product when it was stored at Paducah, Ky.

Prior to the recent uranium tails program, Energy Northwest had enough fuel in inventory or under contract to meet its fuel reloading requirements through 2019. With the additional fuel, Columbia’s fuel costs will be reduced and predictable through 2028.

Platts, a division of McGraw Hill Financial, is an independent provider of information and benchmark prices for the commodities and energy markets. More information can be found at their website: http://www.platts.com.

(Posted by John Dobken)

Deep Dive: What is Resource Adequacy?

Electricity is something many take for granted, except in those rare instances when the power goes out. It’s not an overstatement to say that electricity is an invisible, ubiquitous and essential part of modern life; it keeps our homes and businesses well-lit, comfortable and safe, and it powers the various devices we use for work and leisure.

Whenever we flip a switch, adjust the thermostat, go online, recharge our smartphone, or drive through an intersection with a traffic light, we are counting on the power system to always be ready and able to reliably meet our needs.

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Courtesy BPA

Highly dependable utility service is no accident – instead, it is provided by complex and sophisticated power grids that are the largest machines in the world. These electric utility systems consist of multiple parts, including power plants, transmission lines, local distribution facilities, and associated control and communication systems.

As our consumption of electricity fluctuates from moment to moment, hour to hour, day to day, and month to month, an equal amount of power needs to be produced and delivered to match the load. If at any given point in time not enough juice is being produced, the stuff we’re using starts to shut down. Conversely, if there’s too much juice, things start to overheat. So a continuous re-balancing of loads and resources takes place, like an intricately-choreographed, ongoing dance that enables modern life.

What is resource adequacy?

Simply defined, resource adequacy means having sufficient power resources available when needed to reliably serve electricity demands across a range of reasonably foreseeable conditions.

Electricity consumption is measured using two metrics – peak demand and energy load. Peak demand is the maximum amount of power used at a specific point in time, such as in the evening during very cold or very hot weather after people have arrived home and are using multiple power-consuming devices. The second metric, energy load, is the amount of power consumed over a period of time, such as the monthly energy amount shown on your electric bill.

To keep the lights on, the utility system has to do three things. First, it needs to have enough generating capacity available to meet the peak demands when they occur. Second, it needs generating resources that can produce energy to serve loads across time, from day-to-day, month-to-month, and season-to-season. Third, the utility system needs to have enough operating flexibility to follow upward and downward fluctuations in electricity demands. If the system has sufficient resources to do all of these things reliably, then it is deemed to have resource adequacy (including additional resources to protect against sudden unplanned outages).

What types of resources contribute to resource adequacy?

Traditionally, utilities have used three basic types of generating resources to perform the load-resource balancing act described above. The three types of power plants are known as baseload, peaking and midrange generators. All three types are needed to achieve resource adequacy.

Baseload generators can produce power at a constant rate for extended periods of time, and usually have a relatively low variable cost of production. Examples of baseload generation include nuclear power plants, as well as coal-fired plants. Baseload generators are the workhorses that produce large amounts of energy, along with steady, dependable capacity.

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Columbia Generating Station near Richland, Wash.

At the other end of the spectrum are peaking generators, which can quickly provide capacity to help meet peak loads and to follow short-term fluctuations in loads. Peaking generators also tend to have higher variable operating costs. A common type of peaking generation is single-cycle combustion turbines. These are basically large jet engines that can burn either natural gas or liquid fuels. Peaking generators are good sources of capacity and flexibility, but due to their relatively high operating costs, they are not used to produce large amounts of energy.

Midrange generators have more operating flexibility than baseload generators but less than peaking generators. Midrange generators also have variable operating costs that are higher than baseload generators but lower than peaking generators. The most prominent example of midrange generation is combined-cycle combustion turbines, which produce power in two stages. In the first stage, natural gas is burned in a combustion turbine and used to turn a generator. In the second stage, exhaust heat from the combustion turbine is used to make steam and turn a steam turbine-generator. Typically, midrange generators are used to help supply moderate amounts of capacity, energy and flexibility.

Okay, by now you are probably wondering: What about all the hydroelectric power we have in the Northwest? Traditionally, hydro generation has helped meet the region’s needs for all three types of power. It is a particularly effective, low-cost resource for meeting peak demands and following fluctuations in demand. As a result, the Northwest has historically not needed as much fossil-fueled peaking and midrange generation as other regions of the U.S. Our Northwest hydro power also produces significant amounts of annual energy, but not as much as could be produced from an equal amount of baseload generating capacity.

How do utilities decide which resources to use?

When deciding how to operate their resources to meet consumers’ demands for electricity, utilities seek to provide reliable service at the lowest possible cost.

The resources that a utility normally decides to use, or “dispatch,” first are its resources that have the lowest variable operating cost. These include baseload resources such as Columbia Generating Station. Next, the utility dispatches its resources that have the next highest variable operating cost; often these are midrange generators. Finally, if its loads are relatively high or may be subject to rapid fluctuations, the utility will dispatch its more expensive peaking resources.

Columbia Generating Station is one of the key resources that BPA uses to deliver clean, reliable power to public power utilities across the Northwest. Columbia produces 1,190 gross megawatts of baseload power, including both firm energy and capacity.

For wind power to produce the same amount of energy on an annual basis, more than 3,500 megawatts of wind turbines would be needed. Also, Columbia is not subject to the fluctuations that affect generation from wind and solar-PV. As a result, Columbia provides capacity that is much more firm, and does not require other forms of generating capacity to be held to provide incremental and decremental reserves to integrate wind and other intermittent forms of generation.

How do renewables and other alternative forms of resources fit In?

During the last 15 years, large amounts of new renewable resources have been developed in the Northwest. To date, the predominant share of renewable resource additions in the region have been wind power, totaling over 8,000 megawatts of installed capacity. In more recent years, falling costs and government incentives have also begun to make solar photovoltaic power more attractive.

Nine Canyon Wind Farm

Nine Canyon Wind Farm, located south of Kennewick, Wash.

Wind and solar-PV differ from other existing power resources. In particular, wind and solar-PV produce power intermittently. This limits their ability to contribute to resource adequacy. However, both also have very low variable operating costs. This means that to the extent they can be integrated into the system, it is economically desirable to dispatch them early in the utility’s stack of resources.

To date, the Bonneville Power Administration has integrated over 5,000 megawatts of wind power onto its system. To do so, BPA has dedicated significant hydro resources to mirror changes in production from the wind fleet. BPA maintains 900 megawatts of generating reserves that can be rapidly increased or decreased to offset wind resource fluctuations. This illustrates how a portion of BPA’s hydro generating resources that could be used for other resource adequacy purposes are diverted and used to integrate wind power.

Other steps are being taken to deal with the greater variability created by renewable resources. These include implementing shorter, intra-hour scheduling and dispatching practices, as well as developing new energy imbalance markets.

Demand response is another type of resource that has potential to contribute to resource adequacy. Demand response is not a generating resource; instead it works by adjusting customer use of electricity to help maintain the overall supply-demand balance on the power system. For example, if overall electric loads are increasing rapidly toward peak levels, a demand response can be used to reduce certain loads of customers who have volunteered to participate, typically in exchange for compensation.

Energy Northwest partnered with the City of Richland, Cowlitz County Public Utility District, Pend Oreille County PUD and BPA on the Aggregated Demand Response Pilot Project. This project is using 35 megawatts of aggregated fast-response demand-side resources to test their use to help meet capacity needs as well as flexibility needs on the BPA grid.

Tools – We need them all

Maintaining resource adequacy requires responsible energy policy decisions, at the local, state and federal levels, policy not driven by whims and fads. For instance, having a resource like Columbia Generating Station during the Western U.S. Energy Crisis of 2000 and 2001 saved the region approximately $1.4 billion according to the Public Power Council. That could not have been anticipated in 1999.

(Post by Charlie Black)

Columbia in NRC’s highest performance category

(From Nuclear Regulatory Commission news releases)

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued letters to the nation’s 99 commercial operating nuclear plants about their performance in 2015. All but three plants were in the two highest performance categories.

“These assessment letters are the result of a holistic review of operating performance at each domestic power reactor facility,” said Bill Dean, director of the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation. “In addition to ensuring that the nation’s nuclear power plants are safe by inspecting them, the NRC continuously assesses performance. The purpose of these assessment letters is to ensure that all of our stakeholders clearly understand the basis for our assessments of plant performance and the actions we are taking to address any identified performance deficiencies.”

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Columbia Generating Station.

NRC assesses plant performance through the use of inspection findings and other indicators that can trigger additional oversight if needed. Overall, (Columbia Generating Station) operated safely in 2015 and the plant is currently under the NRC’s normal level of oversight.

“By assessing each plant’s performance in a comprehensive manner, we are able to focus our inspection resources on those areas most in need of attention,” NRC Region IV Administrator Marc Dapas said. “Because Columbia Generating Station did not have any safety or security issues above very low significance in 2015, we are not currently planning any inspections above and beyond our normal reviews.”

The NRC’s normal level of oversight at each U.S. nuclear power plant involves thousands of hours of inspection. In 2015, the agency devoted about 6,000 hours of inspection and review at Columbia.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will hold a public open house on March 17, in Richland, Wash., to discuss the agency’s annual review of safety performance at the Columbia Generating Station nuclear power plant. The plant is operated by Energy Northwest.

NRC staff will be on hand from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Richland Public Library, Conference Room B, 955 Northgate Drive in Richland. While there are no formal presentations during the open house, the public will have an opportunity to ask about NRC’s assessment of the plant’s performance in 2015 and the agency’s oversight plans for 2016. Among the NRC staff in attendance will be the Resident Inspectors assigned to the plant on a full-time basis.

Of the 96 highest-performing reactors, 85 fully met all safety and security performance objectives. These reactors were inspected by the NRC using the normal “baseline” inspection program.

Celebrating National Engineers Week

Engineers are a vital part of the nuclear energy industry. So to commemorate EWeek, we asked a few of the engineers at Columbia Generating Station to answer this question:

Why did you become an engineer?


Denise Brandon, Columbia Generating Station Plant Support Engineering manager

Good question. I guess it started with my dad in his garage. I was by his side fixing things, denise-weblearning how they work. One of my favorite teachers in 5th grade got me excited about math and in college my math teacher was able to make it all click. I was in college during the dot.com boom and the electrical engineers were all on their way to great things. I jumped in. I worked at Ford Motor Company and Boeing during college and had the time of my life. That road led me to Energy Northwest and I feel very fortunate to be able to use my training as an engineer to solve issues daily.

So in a nutshell, I like solving problems and seeing how things work. It’s still exciting.


 

Orlando Bolet, Columbia Generating Station Engineer senior

It’s an interesting question. The word “Engineering” is derived from the Latin word “ingeniare,” which is a military term for constructor of engines or/and military war machines.

orlando-webEngineering is a career for a person with a technical aptitude able to analyze and see what others don’t see. An engineer is able to analyze a condition and come up with concrete creative solutions.

When I first started college, I started in the physics department of “Universidad de Puerto Rico” which is the public college. As I was studying physics and I wanted to align myself with a career of real world applications more than theoretical investigations. I changed to civil engineering after taking an aptitude test and switched colleges to Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico. While in college, I discovered I had a better aptitude with electrical engineering concepts and the science behind electrical engineering fascinated me more than static physics and structural analyses. I also discovered an aptitude to jump from different electrical engineering classes and was able to learn from different topics.

If I had to summarize “why I became an engineer” it was through trial, error and the love of science in the field of electrical engineering.

Last year, I completed my master’s degree in engineering management in order to earn an understanding of business needs while maintaining the engineering aspect of data analysis.


 

Jamie Dunn, Columbia Generating Station Engineer seniorJamie-web

I became an engineer because I have always been interested in design; this evolved from graphic design to interior design to architecture to civil engineering. My strength in math and my consistent curiosity to understand how things work motivated me to pursue a career in engineering.

I now proudly work as an engineer in an industry that makes clean power for the world.

Visit our Careers page at http://www.Energy-Northwest.com to learn more about the opportunities at Energy Northwest.

To learn more about Engineers Week, click here.

From Navy to Nuclear – Ricky Mendoza’s Story

 

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Ricky Mendoza

Ricky Mendoza is an equipment operator at Energy Northwest’s Columbia Generating Station, the Northwest’s only commercial nuclear energy facility. We asked Ricky to share his story of transitioning from the military to the utility sector.

 


 

I went to work for Uncle Sam right out of high school. After Boot camp, the remainder of my first two years in the Navy was spent in Charleston, S.C. and Ballston Spa, N.Y., as a student of the Navy’s Nuclear Power Training program. This was a rather intense/fast paced program, which has been compared to MIT regarding its level of difficulty and the dedication needed to graduate. After making it through the Nuclear power training pipeline, I went on to serve the next four years on the U.S.S. Alabama as a submarine electrician.

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The Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Alabama (SSBN 731) at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Ed Early/Released)

My training didn’t end once on board the Bama, but it did take on a new facet. The training now focused on combating engineering (equipment-related) casualties; firefighting; tracking and evading (and destroying) enemy submarines, and launching nuclear ballistic missiles. As a submarine electrician, I was responsible for maintaining the boat’s electrical distribution system and maintaining and repairing all electrical equipment on board, from washing machines to steam driven turbine generators. Quite often, I would be entrusted with the responsibility of controlling the boat’s speed, while standing watch as the “Throttleman.”

Transition

With my last duty station being Bremerton, Wash., I was fortunate enough to find Columbia Generating Station only a short four hour drive to the east. Luckily, I had former shipmates who had recently found their way into commercial nuclear power.  Their opinions of the industry, with an ability to advance within the company, persuaded me to seek out a career in commercial nuclear power.

My Navy experience paralleled my current position at Columbia in many ways. First, itRicky Mendoza 2 gave me the technical expertise needed to quickly become a contributing member of the Operations team. In addition to technical skills and knowledge, the most important attribute gained from my military service was the solid establishment of the “honesty and integrity” culture. This attitude and way of thinking is an absolute essential cornerstone of the nuclear power industry.

What I do

Ricky Mendoza

Ricky Mendoza on the Refueling Floor at Columbia.

Equipment operators are the “eyes and ears” of the main control room (and the licensed operators) in a commercial nuclear power plant. We fulfill this role by continuously monitoring plant parameters. At least once every 12 hours, equipment operators walk down nearly every piece of equipment in every building of the power plant, to verify equipment is operating as expected. That means the EOs must have a solid understanding of the many different systems’ functions to help us identify degraded equipment performance or abnormal conditions. Equipment operators also perform all equipment manipulations in the field necessary to support surveillance testing, system start-ups and shutdowns and the tagging process, which prevents work on certain equipment.  Additionally, EOs are members of the on-site fire brigade.

The most challenging aspect of the job for me is the never ending pursuit for system knowledge and experience. Every shift presents an opportunity to enhance our knowledge of plant systems and their safe operation.

Having said that, and despite my best efforts, I think my job is still a bit of a mystery to most of my non-Navy friends. But, I think if I had to sum up their feelings about my career choice I would use the word “proud.”

Career choices

I would highly recommend a career in commercial nuclear power to anyone with prior Navy nuclear experience.  A career in the Operations department of a commercial nuclear plant will provide years of fulfilling challenges. Once you master the skills of one position, there is always an opportunity to advance into new positions that provide new perspectives and new responsibilities.

Ricky Mendoza is an equipment operator at Energy Northwest and a member of IBEW Local 77.

Energy Northwest is designated a Military Friendly® Employer. To learn more about the Troops to Energy Jobs Initiative, visit: www.troopstoenergyjobs.com

To learn more about career opportunities at Energy Northwest, visit our website.

Energy Policy by Headline

The headline certainly draws attention:

“Switch to Clean Energy Can Be Fast and Cheap”

In energy resource development, “fast” and “cheap” are laudable goals, but are seldom realistic.

Before an energy project can be built, it goes through multiple “processes” (planning, permitting, licensing).

It is also subject to various “hearings” (public, legislative, regulatory, even judicial – see Jim Conca’s take on the recent Supreme Court action on the Clean Power Plan).

These things are not fast nor are they cheap.

In the push to show that an “all renewables” electric grid can be readily and affordably implemented, shortcuts (intellectual and other) should not be taken that overlook what is actually needed to develop real-life power generation projects, much less massively reconfigure the national power system.

To summarize the article reprinted in Scientific American:

Wind and sunshine could power most of the United States by 2030 without raising electricity prices, according to a new study from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Even when optimizing to cut costs and limiting themselves to existing technology, scientists showed that renewables can meet energy demands and slash carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity sector by 80 percent below 1990 levels.

In less than 14 years! Hey, what’s not to like about that?

The above assumes that a wide variety of technical, economic, and institutional challenges can be successfully overcome by 2030. For example:

MacDonald and Clack said the key enabler for their high renewable energy penetration scenarios is high-voltage direct-current (HVDC) transmission. Photovoltaics and wind turbines often generate direct-current electricity, so transmitting in direct current removes a conversion step that costs money and saps power.

HVDC transmission lines also have fewer losses over long distances than alternating-current transmission. The authors envision an HVDC network across the United States akin to the interstate highway system, shunting power from where it’s produced to where it’s needed in a national electricity market.

In other words, for the U.S. to make a huge, rapid switch to renewables, the study recognizes that the national transmission grid would have to be significantly re-vamped as well. All in 14 years’ time.Pop Mchx Flying Car 1957

Recall the cover of the July 1957 issue of Popular Mechanics that predicted flying cars would be as cheap as automobiles by 1967.

Blowin’ in the wind

As an example, consider the Northwest’s existing wind generating resources. They are heavily concentrated in the Columbia Gorge, for good reason; that’s where the wind is.

But, there are still weeks when the 5,000+ megawatts of wind generation capacity on the Bonneville Power Administration system isn’t contributing much, if anything, to the grid. Without the availability of firm back-up from hydro and thermal (nuclear, coal and natural gas), there’s real trouble. The lights don’t come on.

The study purports to overcome this challenge by building huge new HVDC transmission facilities to link all regions of the U.S. into a single fantastically huge grid. Imagine the expense, and the technical hurdles, that would need to be overcome to make this work.

So back to the “fast and cheap” scenario and the questions that are not asked.

Question #1: Who will pay for it?

Utilities generally don’t build generation projects because they are fond of the technology; they build them because there is a need, i.e. predicted load growth or retirement and replacement of generating resources. But in either case, there is a planning period that typically spans years before the first permit application is even filed. There is also the matter of securing the many millions, or even billions, of dollars needed to build the renewable resources, transmission facilities, control systems, etc.

Question #2: How long would it actually take to design, reach consensus on and then build a massively different power system?

Different regions across the U.S. have diverse mixes of public and investor-owned utilities with different processes located in various states with different rules and regulations and different environmental, cultural and economic concerns. In California, it took seven years just to reach agreement on and start up its regulatory program for reducing CO2 emissions.

It’s not realistic to think that all of the issues and interests could be addressed and then the new power system completed in 14 years’ time.

Question #3: Why an all-renewable portfolio anyway?

If the goal is to reduce carbon emissions, there are more alternatives than just wind and solar. There is hydro, there is nuclear, there is natural gas (which is less carbon-intensive than coal but way above the other two choices). The report does, thankfully, call for continuing existing hydro and nuclear resources, according to Rod Adams at Atomic Insights, who has delved deeper into it.

What some may not realize is that while the wind is free and the sun is free, the technology to convert wind and sun to electricity is not. It is a very mortal process with voices on all sides wanting a say. See the recent legislative episodes in Vermont.

A recent piece in the Spokane Journal of Business makes the case that in the Northwest, solar, not wind, will be the preferred new renewable going forward. A Bonneville Power Administration project engineer told the Journal:

“What we think we’re going to see is the development of solar energy take off. The cost to build is cheaper, and its power can be on a grid in a matter of months rather than years, as is the case with wind.”

But as long as there is a handful of people saying we can power the U.S. with wind and solar, the mantle will be picked up in the comment sections of energy related articles across the country. “So-and-so said we can do it, therefore we can!”

Question #4: How much new wind and solar generation do we even need in the Pacific Northwest?

When it comes to power resource planning, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council does as thorough a job as anyone of reading the landscape to see what’s on the horizon and beyond.

In the draft for their 7th Power Plan (the final plan is approved but not posted yet), the Council made clear that a non-generating resource is supreme:

“In more than 90 percent of future conditions, cost-effective efficiency met all electricity load growth through 2035. It’s not only the single largest contributor to meeting the region’s future electricity needs, it’s also the single largest source of new winter peaking capacity.”

What comes next? Demand response (we do that). And after that? Modest amounts of new natural gas-fired generation.

With just those three resources, load growth in the Northwest is covered through 2035, as projected, according to the draft plan.

As John Harrison of the NWPCC is quoted in the Spokane Journal article:

“It’s free fuel,” Harrison says. “But the bad news for wind power is that it doesn’t produce at capacity in high or low temperatures. We’ve probably maxed out on wind development.”

The Oregon experiment

That sentiment is also prominent in a recent Oregonian article by Ted Sickinger on the effort to move the state’s two largest investor-owned utilities out of the coal game.

The discussion in Oregon is to shift PGE and PacifiCorp to 50 percent renewables by 2040 (10 years later than the NOAA plan). Both would need to do away with a total of 2,400 megawatts of coal capacity, which means nearly tripling the current amount of wind capacity in the state (from 3,000 megawatts to 8,000 megawatts) if that is the chosen replacement resource. Cost: up to $13 billion.

Sickinger writes, “Yet there is a practical limit to the buildout in Oregon. The wind here doesn’t match Montana and Wyoming, and the windiest sites with nearby transmission on the Columbia Plateau are already taken. To maintain reliability, utilities will also avoid clustering all their wind turbines in one area.”

It’s a daunting task and ratepayers will ultimately decide if the environmental benefits of snipping the coal wire (the coal plants aren’t actually located in Oregon) are worth the estimated costs. But it is a shame that carbon-free nuclear energy is not part of the discussion, given NuScale’s development of homegrown small modular reactor technology. $13 billion buys a lot of NuScale modules. Just saying.

Smart energy strategy

More than aspirational dreaming, we need smart energy strategies – ones that take into account the economic, technical and environmental aspects of energy resource development. And what is possible. Also, one that values existing clean energy resources, such as nuclear.

In the real world the lights have to stay on. The heat pump has to work in the winter. The air conditioner in the summer. The margin for error is very small concerning people’s lives and livelihoods. “Fast” and “cheap” may not always cut it. Reliable and cost-effective will do just fine.

(Posted by John Dobken)

Heart of America Northwest, PSR Petition Rejected by NRC

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission delivered a lump of coal to two anti-nuclear energy groups last week by rejecting a petition the groups filed in May.

The petition from Heart of America Northwest and Physicians for Social Responsibility sought to prevent Columbia Generating Station from re-starting following its spring refueling outage because of a “crack indication” in a weld on one of its jet pump risers.

The groups said the indication should be repaired (not necessary); the NRC should take into account seismic information post-Fukushima (already doing so); and that the indication would (somehow) prevent the core from being cooled if there were some seismic event (not true).

We are talking about an indication that is an inch and a quarter in length that doesn’t affect Columbia’s operation.

Jet Pump Indication edit

Some history from our earlier post:

In April, Energy Northwest sent a (courtesy) letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission informing them of our assessment of potential crack growth rates on a single indication (the one in the photo above). The industry normally applies the same standard growth rate to both ends of a crack. The letter simply explains to the NRC that we are applying a slightly lower crack growth rate to one end of the potential crack and provided sound engineering support, including: the material condition at the potential crack tip; mitigation of cracking through effective hydrogen water chemistry; and, industry and plant experience which shows low crack growth rates for similar indications.

In fact this letter is similar to the 2011 letter to the NRC on the same issue.

Additionally, in 2005 we proactively installed slip joint clamps since these are designed to limit vibration and fatigue stresses.

The anti-nuclear groups stumbled on the publicly available courtesy letter and away they went…

 What the NRC Found

On May 27, the NRC’s petition review board denied the HOANW/PSR request for immediate action because their “petition did not provide new information demonstrating an immediate safety concern to the plant or to the health and safety of the public.” The NRC letter went on to say Energy Northwest used a more robust standard from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Code in the evaluation of the weld with the flaw and that EN is monitoring the indication and will re-inspect it during the 2017 refueling outage.

Not good enough for HOANW/PSR. They wanted a teleconference.

During the call, two more issues were raised: the groups wanted access to proprietary information from an EN vendor so it could be reviewed by other anti-nuclear energy groups; and that the NRC “Consider the location of this plant and the fact that it sits in the middle of the Hanford Reservation.”

In August, the NRC rejected these points as well.

The NRC Letter sent to the groups last week provides an education on nuclear reactor core cooling and puts a cork in the anti-nuclear hyperbole.

Highlights of what the NRC wrote:

“The jet pumps are designed and built to withstand a seismic event.”

“…Licensees (Energy Northwest) have demonstrated seismic margins supportive of continued plant operation while additional risk evaluations are conducted.”

“The NRC staff further emphasized in a June 4, 2015, public meeting that ‘the staff notes that Columbia continues to operate safely including consideration of new seismic hazard information.’”

“…jet pump failure has no impact on the structural integrity of the reactor coolant pressure boundary. Therefore, jet pump failure will not cause the reactor to depressurize and result in loss of coolant.”

The issue raised about the location of Columbia Generating Station “in the middle of the Hanford Reservation” is telling. As the NRC wrote in rejecting this part: “…fails to provide sufficient facts to support the petition…” There’s defense nuclear waste at Hanford and Columbia has spent nuclear fuel so… what? The NRC knows we have spent nuclear fuel on site. They regulate its existence.

Beyond that, a quick Google search would find Columbia not even located “in the middle” of the Hanford Site. It’s sloppy stuff. Shouldn’t one’s raison d’etre demand a little more precision and rigor? (We lease the land from the Department of Energy, to which the NRC sent the anti-nuclear groups for any issues they have with Hanford).

Hanford Map

Just the Facts. Well…

Facts, as the saying goes, are stubborn things. Which is probably why this entire petition filed by Heart of America Northwest and Physicians for Social Responsibility contained very few of them. But if the purpose was to waste the time and money of two organizations, mission accomplished.

That’s what happens when one is driven by ideology alone – facts don’t matter, and responsibility is the worry of the other guy.

The anti-nuclear energy activists have been wrong about Columbia 221mil-lifetime-generationGenerating Station for 31 years. Who else gets to be wrong that much and still have anyone pay attention to them? More than 221,000,000 megawatt-hours of carbon-free generation later, the men and women of Energy Northwest continue fulfilling the promise, working safely and effectively to provide electricity to homes and businesses throughout the Northwest.

We think that’s something to be proud of.

(Posted by John Dobken)

Talking Nuclear Energy from Washington State to Washington D.C.

This fall, two important meetings moved the Pacific Northwest and the nation closer to the eventuality of Small Modular Reactors on the grid, and to building those SMRs in new manufacturing facilities. One meeting took place in Washington state and the other in Washington D.C. The NuScale Power SMR, born of Oregon State University, was featured at both meetings.

Energy Northwest is part of the SMR initiative: The first commercial NuScale reactors are scheduled to be installed in Idaho with the power going to the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (based in Salt Lake City), and Energy Northwest acting as the first operator. Hopefully, this will be the first of many SMRs to be installed throughout the country.

Now to the meetings…

The White House Summit on Nuclear Energy: Nov. 6, 2015

The White House organized the Washington D.C. meeting and reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to nuclear energy. The fact sheet for the White House Summit is titled: Obama Administration Announces Actions to Ensure that Nuclear Energy Remains a Vibrant Component of the United States’ Clean Energy Strategy.

Why? The fact sheet makes clear what some are still reluctant to understand:

Nuclear power, which in 2014 generated about 60 percent of carbon-free electricity in the United States, continues to play a major role in efforts to reduce carbon emissions from the power sector.

As America leads the global transition to a low-carbon economy, the continued development of new and advanced nuclear technologies along with support for currently operating nuclear power plants is an important component of our clean energy strategy.

To summarize, nuclear provides clean air energy and jobs. We need both.

Of particular interest to Washington state, the Summit announced many new initiatives for bringing SMRs to market, and to the grid. One major initiative is…

Simulation Support:

The Department of Energy Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors is signing an agreement with NuScale to develop modeling and simulation tools. In this cost-shared venture, CASL will install simulation tools on NuScale systems, and NuScale will simulate performance using the CASL tools.

And after simulation comes…

Licensing Support:

The Department of Energy is investing $452 million dollars, over a six-year span, beginning in 2012. This money supports the engineering expenses at NRC that will be associated with first-of-a-kind licensing for SMRs. This is also another cost-share agreement with private industry. Without this type of industry-government cooperation, the cost of obtaining a first-of-a-kind license would be prohibitive. Estimates for a first-of-a-kind license run to over one billion dollars.

You can watch the entire White House Summit on Nuclear Energy at this link.

Dr. Jose Reyes of NuScale is a member of the Innovation Panel, which discusses new types of reactors. This panel begins at 3:05  (three hours and five minutes) into the program. During his portion, Dr. Reyes explains the worldwide potential demand for small nuclear reactors.

We’ve provided a video clip of a portion of his presentation below:

 

The Washington State Task Force

The Washington State Legislature’s Joint Select Task Force on Nuclear Energy focuses on encouraging the possible role of Washington state as a base for the manufacture of SMRs. As you can see in the Final Report from last year (issued in December) some of the members of the Task Force toured NuScale Power in November 2014.

NETF oct 29

Rep. Terry Nealey speaking during the Washington state Task Force meeting Oct. 29 in Kennewick, Wash.

The Washington State Task Force is an on-going effort, and far more focused than the Washington D.C. Summit Meeting, which seems to have been a one-time event.  The DC meeting was a very nice one-time event, because of the support shown for SMRs, but without the virtues of a task force.

In the document above, you can see that the Washington State Task Force reviews many aspects of developing SMRs, both technical aspects and the possible benefits of new manufacturing in Washington state.

The Washington D.C. meeting did not include any written presentations, viewgraphs or visual aids. In contrast, the Washington State Task force has an abundance of information in presentations.  The 2014 presentations are here. I especially recommend the DOE presentation on  SMR market perspective, and the presentation by Energy Northwest, and NuScale Power.

The meeting notes for 2015 are not yet posted, but they are even more informative. In 2015, NuScale shows a slide in which the components necessary for a NuScale reactor are shown in black type, while the components necessary for a full-scale reactor are shown in light-gray type.

 

Slide8


 

This is a very dramatic slide, despite being all words in black and white!  It shows that SMRs are not just shrunken versions of full-scale reactors: They are truly re-engineered and simplified. Passive safety design can actually be a simpler design.

D.C. and Washington State: Both playing their best roles

I would say that if you really want to know about how SMRs are going to be built and deployed, the ongoing task force of the Washington State legislature has solid information and readable documents. However, I hope that the Nuclear Energy Summit in Washington D.C. will also be helpful to the future of nuclear energy and the future of Washington state.  In that meeting, DOE in Washington D.C. announced it would also play its best role: helping nuclear entrepreneurs access the National Labs, and helping new reactors get licensed.

Washington D.C. and Washington state cooperating on Small Modular Reactors: that would be a win-win for everyone.

(Post by Meredith Angwin)