Truckee: Partial owner and customer of nuclear power plant? | SierraSun.com

Truckee: Partial owner and customer of nuclear power plant?

Erin de Lafontaine and Deirdre Henderson
100 percent Renewable Committee

Our publicly-owned Truckee Donner Public Utility District has been supporting the development of a nuclear power plant utilizing small modular nuclear reactors housed in Idaho Falls.

At an upcoming district board meeting on April 4, the board will vote on approval of the power sales agreement for this project, and the community is encouraged to attend and provide input.

When operational, the power purchased by the district from this nuclear project would account for approximately 20 percent of the Truckee Donner Public Utility District's energy mix. Currently, approximately 65 percent of the district's portfolio is in renewables, a strong track record.

But since nuclear power is not renewable, this project will not contribute to our community's 100 percent renewables resolution passed unanimously by the Truckee Town Council last November, which included the goal of 100 percent renewable electricity by 2030.

There are also questions and concerns around the lack of consideration given to renewable alternatives, in particular solar, which is currently not part of Truckee's portfolio.

There is significant liability associated with this project. As a participant, the district would effectively be both a partial owner and customer of this nuclear facility; which means the district risks significant liability should a nuclear accident or other disaster occur.

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Additional questions exist about the unsolved, 50-plus year problem of long-term storage of nuclear waste. When representatives for this project were asked, during a recent district/small modular reactor workshop, how they were addressing long-term disposal and storage of the radioactive hazardous waste from this plant, their response was that it is a problem for the federal government to solve.

According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, "The United States has over 90,000 metric tons of nuclear waste that requires disposal. The U.S. commercial power industry alone has generated more waste (nuclear fuel that is 'spent' and is no longer efficient at generating power) than any other country — nearly 80,000 metric tons. This spent nuclear fuel, which can pose serious risks to humans and the environment, is enough to fill a football field about 20 meters deep."  

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, nuclear fuel remains radioactive for thousands of years after it is no longer useful. The resulting waste disposal problem has become a major challenge for policymakers, resulting in no long-term solution for over half a century.

At the recent climate conference in Bonn, Germany, "Nuclear was not really part of the conversation," said Dan Kammen, a nuclear physicist, professor in the Energy and Resources Group at the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley, and former science envoy for the U.S. State Department. He went on to say, "Given that the cost of solar and wind is dropping like a rock, nuclear just doesn't compete."

According to a recent Lazard (a leading financial advisory and asset management firm) report, utility wind and solar are the least expensive forms of electricity in the U.S. with a mean of 4.5 and 4.6 cents per kilowatt hour, respectively — compared to conventional nuclear of 15 cents per kilowatt hour.

Mark Jacobson, professor of civil and environmental engineering, director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program at Stanford University, and co-author of the Roadmap to 100 Percent Renewables papers, also states that nuclear is not part of the equation, and that, "… renewables when spread out geographically, with modern grid technology, paired up in a complementary manner to smooth the intermittent nature of the sources, can fill the so-called baseload demand."

Finally, according to  Mark Cooper, Ph.D., senior fellow at the Economic Analysis Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School, "The emergence of an integrated, two-way electricity system based on decentralized alternatives reduces the value and importance of baseload generation (i.e. coal, natural gas, nuclear): The emerging electricity system relies on a dramatic increase in information, computational, and control technologies to intensively manage two-way flows in a system that integrates decentralized, diversified supply-side resources and actively manages demand. It causes a sharp reduction in demand and need for central station, baseload generation."

Our community elects the district board who, in turn, values input from the community. They want the opinions of Truckee residents regarding signing this agreement for the purchase of nuclear power and partial ownership of this nuclear plant.

Please plan on giving your opinion at the board meeting at 6 p.m. on April 4 in the Truckee Donner Public Utility District building.

Erin de Lafontaine and Deirdre Henderson, Truckee residents and Co-chairs of 100 Percent Renewable Committee, Truckee.