Monday, July 23, 2012

The things you learn by reading what comes in your power bill ...

The Columbia Generating Station, near Richland, Wash.
Looking at my Idaho Falls Power bill the other day two items jumped out at me, both pointing to the long-term value of nuclear power. As as news goes it's not terribly sexy, but it will have an effect on how much we pay for electricity here so I think it ought to be of some interest.

First, a purchase agreement between the Energy Department, US Enrichment Corp., Energy Northwest and the Tennessee Valley Authority is going to allow the conversion of depleted uranium into low-cost fuel to be used at Energy Northwest's Columbia Generating Station near Richland, Wash. The station provides about 10 percent of the power marketed by the Bonneville Power Administration, which provides most of Idaho Falls' electricity. The parties involved estimate that this will reduce BPA's energy costs by $20 million between 2014 and 2017.

On a related note, the Columbia Generating Station -- the only nuclear plant in the Pacific Northwest -- has had its license extended to 2043 by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The station is capable of producing more than 1,100 megawatts of electricity, enough to power a city the size of Seattle. This is baseload power, meaning that it is not affected by weather.

Not everyone of course is a big fan of nuclear energy. Checking the newspaper story in the Tri-Cities Herald, the license renewal was not met with unanimous hosannas (http://www.tri-cityherald.com/2012/05/25/1952326/columbia-generating-station-license.html).

In Idaho Falls, attitudes toward nuclear power tend to be more benign than other parts of the country. Looking for a link to illuminate this story, I ran across this commentary from Dan Yurman's Idaho Samizdat Nuke Notes blog, addressing a story in the New York Times, from April 2010 -- about a year before the earthquake and tsunami that made Fukushima a household name.