Right now, there’s just one active nuclear reactor in the Pacific Northwest. Energy Northwest, the operator of that reactor, wants to double that number by placing a small modular nuclear reactor north of Richland, Wash., at Hanford with the purpose of powering a plant designed to clean up radioactive waste.
With a letter in support from Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, Energy Northwest hopes to place the reactor at the site of what was once going to be a small nuclear power farm that never materialized, WNP-1. By opening a reactor there, the site could supply power to Hanford’s vitrification facility, now under construction at the former plutonium-making site, and potentially additional sites within the Hanford region.
One such location is the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, meaning that the first two potential users of the nuclear reactor would involve DOE facilities.
Any final decision on locating of the reactor rests with the Department of Energy, which could award millions of dollars in support of engineering, design certification and licensing, according to the Tri-City Herald, for up to two reactors nationally. A decision on the national placement of those reactors should come in September, with locations from the South to the East to the West all looking to house the reactors.
Proponents of the Hanford location say that with the vitrification plan coming online in the next few years, the Tri-City area will have a need for new energy sources to keep rates down for the general public. With the potential to have a new reactor up and running by 2022, Energy Northwest says they can meet the demand of the vit plant by building on a site that was originally planned for a nuclear reactor anyway.
The WNP-1 location is just one of five Energy Northwest locations planned as a small nuclear power farm in the 1970s that never materialized. With a portion of the infrastructure in place and work on an earlier license complete, the site provides potential cost savings for a new project.
"Our future depends on the availability of safe, clean and affordable electrical energy to fuel our economic growth, create jobs and provide for future generations," Gregoire wrote in the letter. "Continued development of a new generation of advanced nuclear energy facilities has the potential to be an important part of that future."
By constructing modular reactors generating between 45 and 200 megawatts, Washington also opens up the potential to create a new exporting niche.
Tim Newcomb is based in the Pacific Northwest and writes for ENR, TIME and other publications. Follow him on Twitter here.