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Cracks in wall for California’s ban on nuclear energy

Dan Yurman's picture
Editor & Publisher NeutronBytes, a blog about nuclear energy

Publisher of NeutronBytes, a blog about nuclear energy online since 2007.  Consultant and project manager for technology innovation processes and new product / program development for commercial...

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  • Oct 29, 2010 12:52 am GMT

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The potential for nuclear energy is not lost on some of the state’s political and business leaders

vikingsFor the past three decades the State of California has banned the development of new nuclear reactors inside its borders. Green groups led by the Sierra Club have pulverized any effort to over turn the ban like Viking warriors taking a stronghold on the British isles. That powerful presence may be weakening in its influence.

Last week the State Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) agreed to hear from a group of businessmen from Fresno who want to build a new nuclear power station there to provide electricity for food processing and to reclaim water from agricultural runoff through a desalinization process.

In a speech given Oct 14 in San Francisco to the PUC, John Hutson of the Fresno Nuclear Energy Group (FNEG) said his group plans to develop two Areva 1,600 MW ERP reactors in the San Joaquin Valley.

B.B. Blevins, a former member of the California Energy Commission, told the PUC the states ban on new reactors does not apply to thermal reactors used for industrial purposes. Reactors used for desalination of waste irrigation water would fall in that category.

Hutson added that re-use of spent nuclear fuel would resolve California’s concerns about the “waste issue.” He said most advanced nations, like France, re-use their spent fuel.

More energy fewer emissions leads a path to nuclear

Meanwhile, California energy officials are facing the state’s own strict laws to prevent global warming. Two years ago the City of Los Angeles pulled out of investing in a 900 MW coal-fired plant in Utah.

State Sen Alex PadillaNuclear energy is a carbon emission free source of baseload power, a fact that is not lost on members of the legislature. State Sen. Alex Padilla (right) told a Sacramento TV station:

“There are people out there who suggest that the only way we can achieve the goals we’ve laid out for California is to have nuclear energy a part of our future. We shouldn’t take it off the table.”

That’s pretty significant coming from a Democrat. In the past most of the pro-nuclear sentiment in the legislature came from the conservative wing of the Republican party.

Sierra Club push for renewables means more for natural gas

That doesn’t cut it with the Sierra Club which is as hard over as ever against nuclear energy. Jim Metropulos, a spokesman for the group, told the TV station:

“We should be looking at energy efficiency, renewables and other power sources before we look at reviving the dinosaur of new nuclear plants.”

But State legislative heads nodded north and south when several experts told them “renewable sources” touted by the Sierra Club won’t keep the lights on in Los Angeles. Natural gas plants will be needed to provide baseload power and that means more, not less, greenhouse gases.

Environmental groups pile about the risks of nuclear energy, but seem sanguine about accidents involving natural gas. That may change.

On Sept 10 a natural gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno killed four people, destroyed dozens of homes. The New York Times reported the cause was failure of a 31 inch buried pipeline.

While some have talked about the near term lower prices for natural gas, other experts disagree.

According to KGO-TV, Stanford University Nobel Laureate Burt Richter, Ph.D. said:

“Nuclear generated electricity can make a contribution to this goal because it is cost effective compared to most others.”

California gets 15% of its electricity from two nuclear plants Diablo Canyon and San Onofre.

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