Pioneering is the Oregonian DNA. From westward settlers to Nike, this state has a rich history of explorers, leaders and innovators who have advanced human technology. This is especially true in this state's promotion of clean, safe nuclear energy.
After attending the American Conservation Coalition's first summit and hearing various discussions on the efficacy of nuclear energy, I decided to research nuclear energy and its history in Oregon. However, I quickly realized that a legacy of nuclear innovation is in jeopardy.
The first domino to fall was the Trojan Nuclear Power Plant — decommissioned in 2004 due to fears for public safety. This was a primary example of public fear of nuclear energy, and its implementation into our energy grid, leading to the stifling of innovation. The fact is, nuclear energy is an extremely safe and powerful energy source, but Oregon has signed legislation in place making it difficult for any nuclear plant to be built within our state.
This law states that in order for any nuclear-fueled thermal power plant site to be issued a certificate, the site must have a federally licensed nuclear waste repository. While this may seem like a logical and non-consequential regulation, there are no federal agencies that have developed guidelines for the disposal of nuclear waste. This means that the statue effectively bans nuclear power in Oregon. Yet, across the country, many nuclear plants have been safely disposing of their waste, without any federal agencies being involved to monitor this process.
Another nuclear, state law, ORS 469.597, states that the proposal for a nuclear plant must be approved by Oregonians on the ballot during a statewide election. It's important to note that this process is only followed once the Energy Facility Siting Council finds a federally operated waste depository, something that, again, does not exist.
Oregon's onerous regulations on the nuclear industry not only shut down a vital energy source for its people, but inhibit a superior technological solution to the climate crisis. After all, nuclear energy emits little to no carbon emissions, and 28 states in the nation have operating nuclear reactors, totaling to 92 nuclear power reactors, as of May of this year.
Fortunately, though, there is one company operating in the state that embraces this technology: NuScale Power. NuScale is known for its development of a SMR, or small module reactor. Through partnerships and funding from Oregon State University, the company has been able to develop their unique technology that provides large outputs of power while utilizing small amounts of land. Known as the Carbon Free Power Project, the first NuScale SMR power plant will begin generating energy by the end of this decade in Idaho Falls, Idaho.
Even though NuScale is an Oregon company, it chose Idaho as its first project site because the state is permitted to regulate its own nuclear waste, rather than relying on a federal program that does not exist. Idaho's regulatory self-oversight is also why it is home to the Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory (INL).
In order for Oregon to conduct further research on nuclear energy and eventually to build its own nuclear power plant, Oregonians must call for change to the restrictive state laws around the industry. Currently, there are no initiatives to amend the current state laws, but any resident who cares about building a cleaner future has an obligation to advocate for nuclear energy. Imagine all the economic, energy and climate benefits that our state would receive if our lawmakers would permit Oregon our own regulatory process of nuclear waste management.
Oregon claims the goal of being carbon neutral by 2040, but that cannot be achieved without nuclear power. As a state, we will never reach our goal until nuclear power has a seat at the table.
McKenna Zandecki is an Oregon native and a member of the American Conservation Coalition. She is working to bring an ACC branch to Portland in the fall.
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