Why would we want to discuss nuclear power in this wind-swept, coal-laden, oil & gas-filled energy /hydrocarbon capital of the world?

Well, this is why: To understate the matter, lately I have observed a lot of criticism of wind towers, gas wells, and energy industry proposals.   Maybe we should discuss alternatives.

Nuclear-powered electrical generation does not emit much gaseous carbon waste, does not usually involve strip-mining, and probably would not occupy as much grouse habitat as some of the alternatives.  To be sure there are environmental disturbances associated with mining and milling uranium, processing it into fuel rods, recycling or storing fuel rods, and there are security issues.

The March issue of National Geographic magazine contains a short article displaying designs for small-scale “small town nukes” ranging from 10 to 45 megawatts. (one megawatt can power 1,000 average-size homes)  These mini-reactors are modeled on power plants which have been used in submarines and aircraft carriers without many incidents.  The idea is to place them underground and provide power to remote towns, mines or industrial facilities, but they could be used to supply local markets, thereby reducing need for large extra-high-voltage transmission lines.  One unit being installed in Alaska will not require refueling for 30 years.  The units are designed to shut themselves down if there is any kind of problem, with gravity-assisted damping systems taking the place of pumps.

This week we offer these provocative questions for the reading public to discuss:

1.  Assuming that investment costs of installing and operating such small-scale nuclear plants are not radically more than costs of building coal- or gas-fired generation plants, should Wyoming encourage siting of small nuclear plants?

2.  Is it impossible, no matter how convincing the science and engineering might be, to satisfy residents of Jackson, Cody, Laramie or Sheridan that such plants could be built and operated safely near their communities?

Enter your responses in comment box below or e-mail them to: TheSageGrouse@Wyofile.com

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  1. Interesting that no one has mentioned proposed uranium mines (essentially wellfields the way uranium is “mined” these days) in sage-grouse core areas. Also, with water consumption and lack of restoration success, I wonder just how “clean” this option is. And yes, as has been mentioned..what to do with the waste from nuclear power?

  2. I believe we should continue to look at all viable energy alternatives – this certainly fits in that category and I believe enough people would agree assuming all facts are placed before them and the facts support the argument – Mark

  3. Carl Pope, head of the Sierra Club, is quoted in this week’s “New Yorker” magazine as saying that his organization does not believe that nuclear power is “the best policy.” On the other hand, as the editorialist observes, “the best … may not be among the available choices.” I am deeply doubtful about just about everything except that, certainly, Americans use energy and will continue to need energy. I must say I am tired of my beautiful Wyoming tearing itself up to provide energy to the rest of the nation. Mini-nukes have a certain coziness to them, so unlike, say, a mountaintop coal mine.

  4. Sarah’s right about energy efficiency have great bang for the buck.
    The problem with nuclear waste is that you either have to find secure storage (and risk running into NIMBY) or you re-process the waste into nuclear fuel that has the side product of creating weapons-grade plutonium and the security problem that engenders.
    A mini-nuclear plant in my backyard doesn’t worry me (I’ll likely be dead and buried by the time the unit needs to be refueld), but it presents serious problems for my kids and grandkids — problem I am reluctant to impose on them.
    Unless we figure out how to control fusion reactions like we do fission, there is no silver bullet out there on the energy scene — energy will steadily become ever more expensive and we’ll either have to give up past excesses (Hummers come to mind) or invest heavily in energy efficiecy and renewables like wind, solar, tidal. The future will belong to the society or business that understands energy return on investment.

  5. The University of Wyoming is conducting a survey(paid for by who knows) to see if nuclear power and in situ mining of uranium would be “accepted” by the general public. If this survey is connected to the questions of small underground plants, then there are many reservations. First, I do not think in situ mining of uranium can protect ground water resources which are already compromised by other energy and agriculture industries. It sounds like if we do all these things plants and miningunderground we are hiding the real costs and impacts. Spent fuel is and always will be the main problem. I do not wish to saddle generations to come with this problem.

  6. Dear Mr. Grouse,
    I would vote for the mini nuke plants, but only if they are placed in your back yard, or perhaps under your pillow. You would be offered free electricity for the invasion of your home, but you wouldn’t even have to turn on your night light because you would glow in the dark.

    Think of the view when the first of these nukes “boils over” and the earth for 5 or 10 miles is contaminated. You would be able to see the heat waves on a cloudy day, out across the overheated land.
    Now that’s a view to imagine!

    The reconsituted buffalo would have three eyes, the mountain lion would run backwards, the mad cow would become a standup comic, making a living out of telling jokes about three sheep going into a bar…

  7. Yes, we have coal, oil, gas, wind, AND Uranium in Wyoming. We have uranium mines (inactive) and a processing facility (mothballed) which is probably the newest one in this country. It could be operational in less time than building another facility. Why are we ignoring one of the safest, least polluting means of meeting the energy demands of the US? The implementation of small, underground nuclear power plants located near population centers should be pursued NOW. Of course, this would cause the discussion/arguments about transmission line placement to be irrelevant, because we wouldn’t need to have as many large, long transmission lines. That would certainly help viewsheds, grouse habitat, and landowners’ ability to effectively use their land.

  8. I too read the article. While the mini-nukes have a lot more going for them than the big ones, one of the perennial problems remains: what to do with the waste? The Nevadans seem reluctant to take that on for the rest of us. Second, it seems we consider crazier and crazier ideas to meet energy demands without looking seriously at the demands. Californians use half the electricity of other Americans, per capita, and I don’t see them gnawing their cold food in their caves. The biggest bang for the buck out there is investing in energy efficiency.