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Taking Nuclear Green

Sept. 20, 2016
The value of linking nuclear power and intermittent wind and solar

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is last of a two-part series. Last week: “Closing the Fuel Cycle.”

The time has come for the nuclear-energy industry to go green and make the electricity it generates even more sustainable. We need to demonstrate the value of linking nuclear baseload and intermittent wind and solar.

Here is how we can do it.

First, let’s recognize the energy value of the used nuclear fuel we currently discard. Did you know that our 70,000 tons of used fuel contains roughly enough energy to power every household in America for 12 years?

“Valuing used fuel against the cost of permanent burial is a calculation best done by the companies that provide fuel management services,” said Jack Spencer, of the Heritage Foundation. “Right now, utilities have no incentive to do anything but store it.”  

This would require Congress to act.

Gary M. Mignogna, president of France's Areva operations in the United States. suggests a course of federal action.

 "As DOE provides funds for development of the next generation of reactors, we need to encourage them to support technologies that either burn most of the actinides during the normal fuel burn or that can burn nearly all of the actinides from recycled MOX fuel, he said."

And that is why I am asking Georgia Power to make sure Vogtle units 3 & 4 can burn fuel being fabricated just across the river at the Savannah River site near Aiken, South Carolina--if the MOX project, or Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, is ever finished.

This plant, modeled after processes currently used in France at La Hague and MELOX, will permanently change surplus nuclear warhead material into commercial nuclear reactor fuel.

The MOX Project facility is 70 percent complete, but haphazard funding from Washington is dragging out the project. We need a president who sees the value in this project.

Finally, recycling used nuclear fuel makes sense in the long run. This recycled material will be available at a discounted price compared to fresh uranium fuel the utilities currently buy.

Ratepayers and shareholders will benefit from cheaper reactor fuel, especially in times like today when low natural-gas prices are creating a financial disadvantage for nuclear plants. The cost of nine Yucca Mountains will be astronomical, and recycling drastically reduces storage for the remaining 4 percent of used fuel.

Let’s do the math. If we continue to close coal plants, which operate around the clock regardless of weather, and we continue to add intermittent energy sources like wind and solar and their natural-gas backup generators, how are we going to reduce our net CO2 emissions and provide the reliability that businesses and ratepayers expect? Nuclear energy is the answer, and recycling makes it greener and sustainable.

Tim Echols serves on the Georgia Public Service Commission.

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