Tuesday, February 13, 2007

No nukes for Northwest says Seattle energy expert

The former head of power planning for the city of Seattle says there is little likelihood of new nuclear power plants being built in the Pacific Northwest. In a speech to a regional group of energy executives this week, Jim Harding said the barriers to new construction are nearly overwhelming.

Harding's short list of reasons why there will be no nukes for the Northwest soon include;
  • Lack of public acceptance of new nuclear plants
  • First of a kind engineering issues for plant design & construction
  • Shortage of engineers and skilled staff
  • Lack of investor support
  • Cost of uranium for fuel
Note: Meeting agenda here. Harding's slides here in PDF format (big file).

It gets worse. The energy executives are reported to have burst out laughing when Harding raised the issue of taxpayer subsidies for new nuclear plants. One of the largest defaults of municipal bonds in the nation's history occurred in the mid-90s with the collapse of the Washington Public Power Supply System nuclear project. The system defaulted on over $2 billion in bonds. Litigation followed with bondholders getting between 10-40 cents on the dollar. Seattle, which is where Harding once worked, was badly burned financially in the deal.

Only one plant out of five planned survived. The Trojan Plant in Oregon, which had been operational, was closed because the costs of repairs were too high. The cooling tower was demolished in May 2006. Video of the controlled explosion here.

Harding's unsympathetic assessment of the near-term prospects for nuclear power wrapped up on this note. "To have a nuclear renaissance, you have to have a stable supply of fuel, regulatory support, and a compelling economic story." All three are in doubt he said.