Jul 29, 2012

Small nuclear reactors are too little too late : via @Stltoday

Ameren Missouri recently announced a proposal for a small, modular nuclear reactor. What's the problem? Well, let's begin with the folly of picking an industry that is a loser from every vantage point. Missourians know from Ameren's repeated attempts to push through a nuclear plant proposal that private investors dismiss nuclear power plants as economically unsound.

According to Forbes, "The Department of Energy will spend $452 million — with a match from industry — over the next five years to guide two small modular reactor designs through the nuclear regulatory process by 2022. But cheap natural gas could freeze even small nuclear plants out of the energy market well beyond that date." Where will industry come looking for its share of matching funds? If history is any guide, Missouri ratepayers will be called upon to provide those funds, enabling Ameren to raise our electricity rates in perpetuity.

Envisioned to create an energy hub with thousands of jobs, the small 225-megawatt nuclear reactor would have about one-fifth the capacity of a large nuclear plant, which might not come online until 2022. As a strategic energy plan, this vision delivers too little, too late.

Missouri's aging energy infrastructure is dominated by one nuclear and 15 coal-burning power plants, ranging between 2,389 megawatts and 273 megawatts, many in need of retirement. Strikingly, Missouri has a dozen natural gas plants with 100 megawatts to 700 megawatts of generation capacity, enough to supply 50 percent of Missouri's electricity needs. Many of those plants are sitting virtually idle. With natural gas prices at all-time lows, these plants could be brought online today, with no new investment. Doing so would reduce toxic and greenhouse gas releases drastically.

Wind electricity generation is coming from across the Great Plains states, spanning from Texas to the Dakotas. Electricity costs from wind generation are declining steadily. Plans are underway to construct four major new transmission corridors to deliver electricity to Eastern and Western states where it is needed. Says Clean Line Energy spokesman Mark Lawlor, "We have far more electricity than Missouri needs to meet its renewable energy standards."

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