Nuclear Power not an ‘Experiment’

Letter To The Editor_Pongratz Endorses Chris Chandler For House District 43 Seat (49)


Mr. George Chandler wrote a letter suggesting the county back out of the Fluor/Nuscale small modular reactor project. He identified quite a few details of the project that he had an issue with and was worried about. In that letter he also stated that “Los Alamos needs new non-carbon reliable power sources”. If we continue down the path of heavy reliance on wind/solar without the technology to cheaply and efficiently store the energy, we will be in the same energy crisis that California (and parts of New Mexico) are facing during these heat waves. Yes, there are concerns to be had and they are completely valid. We need to remain in this project for now, as the upside to it is outweighing the cost.

Mr. Chandler argues that this project is “still in the experimental stage and not the solution to our problem”. Nuclear power plants have been around for decades. New technology comes around consistently enough that materials and designs change. This isn’t so much “experimental” as it is design and testing of a new style of reactor. The U.S. Navy has had “small reactors” since 1955 with the first nuclear submarine (the Nautilus) going underway on nuclear power. Nuclear power plant technology is changing over time, but the premise is still the same: Fission generates heat, steam powers turbines, turbines generate electricity. This applies if you are making a 100MW plant or a 900MW plant. This isn’t “experimental”, it’s the test of a new design.

As for the business side of it, plans change. Manufacturing location, schedules, materials and all that can change as the business model adapts to real-world challenges. This isn’t necessarily a sign to panic, but it is cause for discussion. These alone are not reasons to bail out of the project. Nuscale announcing a fuel enrichment increase or newer fuel technology for an increased power output isn’t an argument against the plant, it is simply a design adjustment. The same argument goes for the zirconium alloy for fuel cladding. Zirconium is a rather common cladding material utilized in many nuclear reactor designs. Cause for getting out of the project? Not at all.

The argument that Mr. Chandler concludes his letter with is again that the project is “an experiment, it is not a tried and true design that is ready for production.” He later goes on to state that “Los Alamos is in need of a reliable non-carbon power source”. If the county were buying in to a “tried and true design”, the cost of the energy would be significantly higher than what we stand to potentially get from the Nuscale project. If there were other non-carbon power sources available with reasonable rates and no reliability issues, I wouldn’t argue against most of his assessment. Unfortunately, New Mexico has no commercial nuclear power plants, and wind/solar reliance is not stable at this timeframe. We must pursue other avenues of power generation if we wish to become carbon neutral.

This project sets the county up for the future. Yes, there are hurdles and obstacles to overcome. Yes, there are concerns that should be addressed and discussed. Getting the design approved by the NRC is no easy task. Are any of the items Mr. Chandler discussed a deal breaker? Not in my eyes. The only way this county is going to achieve its goal of carbon-neutrality (and keep rates reasonable) is to continue with this deal for now. If the prospects worsen to the point of it losing favor, there are other off-ramps for the project. Until then, stay the course.

Aaron Walker
Independent Candidate For County Council