It appears the nuclear industry has a failure to communicate.
Thursday night, the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering (CASE) gave a three-hour presentation to the Nuclear Energy Advisory Council about the future of nuclear power in Connecticut. CASE argued that another nuclear reactor should be built in Connecticut, and the best spot would be Millstone Power Station,
A nuclear spent fuel repository has not been built partly because the majority of the public is still against nuclear power and therefore it is politically difficult, a point backed up by CASE’s research. CASE interviewed 600 people in Connecticut, and many were against nuclear energy despite having incorrect or no information on the topic.
“The nuclear industry has done a bad job of communicating with the public,” NEAC Chairman J.W. “Bill” Sheehan said, a statement CASE speakers echoed.
The Benefits of Nuclear Power
Nuclear power is one of the cheapest forms of power, and produces no emissions, said executive consultant Regis Matzie, who presented for CASE. Over the past 30 years, nuclear power plants have become far more efficient, while lowering “significant safety events” to almost zero, Matzie said.
Compared to other non-emission forms of energy, like wind and solar, nuclear power is far cheaper and requires far less space, Matzie said. To produce 1,000 megawatts of electricity, a nuclear power plant takes up 0.8 square miles, while a solar plant would take up 19 square miles, and a wind plant would take up 79 square miles, Matzie said.
Also, Connecticut’s energy costs are dependent on the cost of natural gas, which is cheap now but is likely to increase in cost, Matzie said. By building another nuclear reactor, it would diversify Connecticut’s energy portfolio and make Connecticut electrical costs less dependent on the cost of natural gas, he said.
There are economic benefits as well. A new nuclear reactor would likely bring 450 more jobs to the area, and lower Connecticut's electric rates, CASE Study Manager David Pines said.
The biggest reason not to build another nuclear reactor is the federal government has not yet built a repository to hold all nuclear spent fuel, Pines said. The government spent billions of dollars preparing Yucca Mountain in Nevada as that repository, but the Obama Administration has since ruled that location out, and no replacement has been named, he said.
Without a nuclear repository, all 104 of the country’s nuclear power plants are charged with storing their own nuclear spent fuel. There are some security issues with that, Pines said.
Still, even if a spent fuel repository is built, the state and the nuclear power industry have other challenges. For one, the nuclear power industry has to prove it can build a Generation III-plus reactor on time and on budget, so interest rates on loans to nuclear power plants are lower, Pines said.
Generation III-plus reactors require no electricity to keep the plants safe, unlike the reactors at Millstone and Fukushima, Japan. The biggest problem with the nuclear reactors in the after the Japan tsunami was there was no electricity to the site, so if a plant can be built without needing electricity it will be that much safer, Matzie said.
The problem is these reactors have not been completed yet in the United States, so banks charge high interest rates on the $4.5 billion projects, Pines said. Once they are proven, the interest rates will be lower and therefore the project more buildable, he said.
The state also needs to help move along the process by allowing long-term electrical contracts that will ensure companies get the $4.5 billion back they put in to build a reactor, along with some other measures, Pines said.
The Failure To Communicate
All of that, though, remains unlikely unless the nuclear industry can change the mostly negative perception of itself to the general public. Alissa DeJonge, director of research for the Connecticut Economic Resource Center, interviewed 600 people for the CASE study and found many had negative and often inaccurate beliefs about nuclear power.
For example, 48 percent of the people interviewed did not know that there was a nuclear power plant in Connecticut, DeJonge said. And 64 percent of people did not think Connecticut should encourage the construction of another nuclear reactor, she said.
Many favored solar and wind projects, two forms of energy that are too inefficient to be reliable, large-scale energy producers, Pines said. One of the goals of the nuclear industry should be to try to educate the public more about nuclear energy, CASE and NEAC leaders both said.