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Several factors will determine nuclear future

Published 9:09pm Thursday, April 4, 2013


The United States needs 22 percent more electricity by 2035, according to 2010 estimates.

Nuclear power provides 20 percent of U.S. baseload electricity, which powers homes and businesses daily.

Besides baseload, there are mid-load, which revs up to meet daytime demand, and peak load, such as hot summer days when everyone cranks up air conditioning, stretching the electrical grid to its limit.

Nuclear is a form of electricity low in emissions whose future depends upon such factors as the economy, the aging workforce and new plant construction.

A uranium pellet the size of a pinkie finger contains as much energy as a ton of coal, three barrels of oil, 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas or 5,000 pounds of wood.

Conserving energy is worth pursuing, Terry Groth said Thursday, but is not a complete solution, citing the paradox that if cars become more fuel efficient, people drive them farther.

“We have 600 people (at Palisades nuclear plant near Covert in Van Buren County; there is also the larger Donald C. Cook plan in Berrien County) and over 80 engineers,” said Groth, of quality assurance at Entergy in Kalamazoo, at Southwestern Michigan College’s spring academic lecture series Thursday,

“When I first started working at the plant, I didn’t have any kids. I had a different outlook. Now that I have a 5-year-old, it hits closer to home. We need clean, reliable, affordable energy and clean air. We don’t want to breathe smog. Nuclear produces no greenhouse gases because we don’t burn anything, reducing dependence on coal, natural gas and oil. Each plant’s electrical production during the course of a year equals 1.4 billion gallons of oil or 912 train loads of coal.”

Groth, of Paw Paw, graduated from Dowagiac Union High School in 2000 and from SMC in 2002.

“I’m not bashing sources like wind and solar,” he said, “but they’re not the end-all. Wind can fluctuate. In Michigan, if you don’t like the weather, wait 20 minutes and it will change. California’s 1,500-megawatt windmills average 25 percent capacity and 9 percent during peak summer demand. Wind won’t ever be able to provide more than 20 to 25 percent of total electricity needs given the land that’s required. Blades butcher birds. The Audubon Society opposes wind farms.”

Solar power has an advantage over wind, according to Groth. “At peak times when it’s needed the most in hot summer afternoons, it will be there, but it’s just part of the mix.”

Of hydroelectricity, Groth said Lake Powell in Utah had 250 square miles generating 1,300 megawatts of electricity, but drought and silting reduced it to 131 square miles and 514 mw.

“Almost all dam sites have been employed and there is little room for expansion,” he said.

Natural gas puts out two-thirds as much carbon dioxide as oil and half as much as coal. Between 1990 and 2008, natural gas fueled 95 percent of all plants built.

An increase in supplies drove prices down to an all-time low.

“But we don’t want to put all our eggs in one basket, whether it’s energy or stocks,” Groth said.

The United States has 25 percent of the world’s coal supply.

“It’s cheap,” Groth said, “but dirty.”

Cap-and-trade or carbon taxes could increase costs and put coal plants which cannot afford to upgrade out of business.

He cited a Wisconsin plant caught in the recession.

“They can’t sell it because natural gas prices are so low,” Groth said. “That’s more than 500 people without jobs when they shut their doors. Aging plants from the late ’60s and ’70s require more maintenance. Each year, the average nuclear plant generates $430 million in sales of goods and services, salaries and taxes.”

Spent fuel storage remains controversial, but there has been no urgency from the federal government to provide something like Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

“All waste fuel produced in the United States in 40 years is more than 50,000 metric tons. Stacked end to end it, would only cover the area of one football field at a depth of less than 10 yards.”

“A lot more people favor nuclear power,” Groth said. “There’s been a shift since I’ve been in it. Thirty-eight percent of men strongly favor it and 19 percent of women. The impending retirements of the baby boomer generation is a huge factor. Last week, my mentor retired and all that knowledge went out the door. Between 1980 and 2005, there was an entire generation (lost) because it was perceived nuclear was dying” after Three Mile Island, the partial nuclear meltdown in Pennsylvania in 1979.

“There’s been a significant re-interest in nuclear driven by climate change because it’s a green energy source,” he said.

Colleges, such as Lake Michigan in Berrien County, are developing programs to train a new skilled workforce. Veterans could be a huge source because of the nuclear navy.

“Submarines and most, if not all, aircraft carriers, are powered by nuclear reactors,” he said.


Energy Act of 2005

• Offered $18.5 billion in loan guarantees.

• Seventeen companies applied for $122 billion for 21 reactors.

• Two are being built with four reactors in eastern Georgia and South Carolina.


Dowagiac Daily News




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