Big Bucks Saved If Aging Hanford Nuclear Plant Closes

CGS_NRCGovRatepayers in Washington State could save a cool $1.7 billion over 17 years if the Columbia Generating Station (CGS) nuclear power plant at Hanford is closed.

A 212-page economic analysis released last week by McCullough Research of Portland, OR notes that the CGS on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation is the only nuclear facility that was actually completed out of the five plants begun there during the long and tangled history of Hanford. In addition, it contains a General Electric boiling water reactor that’s similar to those that were destroyed during the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan.

But the study is not about the risks of nuclear generation; it focuses on the economics of the CGS and its possible replacement with other energy suppliers.

“Our conclusion, bolstered by many interviews with the project’s owners and operators, as well as with industry representatives throughout the region, is that CGS can be replaced at a significant cost saving to the region’s ratepayers,” says the report’s author, Robert McCullough.

The study is not recommending the immediate closure of the Hanford nuclear plant, rather it recommends that the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) issue a request for alternatives, “to see if the unit can be replaced with long-term options that are less costly, less risky and better fitted to regional needs.”

BPA is unique entity: a federal nonprofit agency based in the Pacific Northwest that’s part of the U.S. Department of Energy, but is self-funding and covers its costs by selling energy products and services. BPA markets wholesale electrical power from 31 federal hydro projects in the Columbia River Basin, one nonfederal nuclear plant and several other small nonfederal power plants.

“We believe this report demonstrates clearly that aging nuclear reactors, in addition to having safety problems, are having trouble competing in the electric power market,” says Dr. Catherine Thomasson, PSR national executive director. The report was commissioned by a local affiliate chapter of the Washington and Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility.

There are four main recommendations:
• “Displace” the plant by less expensive market solutions
• The BPA should request firm bids from suppliers on displacing the plant
• Displacement power should be purchased by plant owner Energy Northwest and supplied to BPA under an existing contract
• Energy Northwest should use a combination of training and employing current workers in plant decommissioning

McCullough says BPA paid $418.9 million to operate the plant in FY 2013. “If BPA had purchased the same energy from the Mid-Columbia market at Dow Jones daily on-peak and off-peak prices, it would have paid $218.5 million. In sum, BPA paid $418.9 million for $218.5 million worth of energy.” That would have been a savings of nearly 11 percent.

“The Columbia Generating Station (CGS) analyzed by McCullough is one of the most uneconomic of the aging regulated reactors,” said Dr. Mark Cooper, economist with the University of Vermont Law School.

The report also states that while the plant is considered “carbon free,” its owner, Energy Northwest, purchased nuclear fuel worth $700 million from a now-closed fuel enrichment plant in Paducah, KY. “The dirty carbon footprint of nuclear power is not as well-known as it should be,” says Susan Corbett, Chair of the Sierra Club Nuclear Free Campaign. “The fact that Energy Northwest served as the broker to run the dirty Paducah nuclear fuel plant for an additional year is a black eye for them and the industry as a whole.”

It’s not like Energy Northwest has no experience with other forms of energy supply. In addition to the CGS, it operates three other electricity generating facilities: White Bluffs Solar Station, Packwood Lake Hydroelectric Project, and Nine Canyon Wind Project.

Time to “displace” nuclear power from the portfolio.

[Image: Columbia Generating Station by NRCgov via Flickr CC]

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