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?