Letter to the Editor

AEHI defends itself against its letter to the editor critics

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Dear editor:

Diana Hooley's recent opinion got a few facts right: we are proposing "500 permanent, high-paying jobs and increased wealth to be spread among public facilities and private business. But the benefits can only begin to be realized if Elmore County agrees to support and permit a nuclear power plant on a piece of farm ground in Hammett."

After that, though, Hooley said a lot of things that need to be corrected. First, she says our current site is "problematic" and our designs "are not credible and have no known prototype."

Regarding our current site location, I can tell you there are plenty of examples of America's 104 nuclear reactors within a few miles of farms, homes and high-end resort towns and surrounded by wetlands and estuaries. It's no secret to anyone who bothers to look. Our CEO, Don Gillispie, has assembled some good examples and photos on his Oct. 30 blog entry at www.cleanidahoenergy.wordpress.com.

Gillispie's Jan. 16 blog post explains why our current proposed site is ideal and why the Simco Road site isn't suitable. Here is a recap:

The Simco Road site has no water supply so a dedicated water line of more than 20 miles would need to be constructed. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission would disapprove the Simco Road site for security reason alone. Our current site provides required water supply security.

The Simco Road location has geologic issues that could make qualification expensive, if it is possible at all, due to strict NRC requirements regarding geologic stability. Preliminary geologic testing confirms our existing site has no such potential issues.

Key parcels along the Simco Road site are under option by other parties, making it unavailable for a nuclear plant site. Our current proposed site is optioned and ready for the development process.

The Simco Road area is 7 miles from Boise's industrial area and 21 miles from Mountain Home, along the Ada-Elmore county border. Elmore County would lose much of the employment revenue as employees would likely live in Boise. Our existing site is 12 miles from Mountain Home, putting it in a better position of supporting economic development in Elmore County.

Regarding water rights, the land has a portion of the water rights we need. As we have said many, many times, we will have to use existing water rights, obtained from willing sellers. We are exploring the option of "renting" water year-round from parties that hold water rights, be they farmers, the state or other industries; since we do not need to consume most of the water, we may use it for cooling and then return it to those who own the rights to the water.

To her credit, Hooley avoids the off-the-wall science fiction disaster scenarios that usually define anti-nuclear arguments. But her statement that contamination from the plant would somehow reach the Snake River must be corrected. American nuclear plants have a superb operating record and typically operate next to estuaries and wetlands and are closely monitored by the EPA and NRC regarding any emissions. Their wastes are securely stored on-site for reprocessing and no discharge of radioactive material is permitted at any time and the NRC monitors this closely. Coal plants -- the source American utilities went to after abandoning nuclear power -- emit large amounts of radiation and heavy metals.

Regarding our choice of an advanced third-generation reactor: many anti-nukes like to point out that none of the modern reactor types are approved for use in the U.S. The 104 nuclear reactors now operating here in the U.S. are "first and second generation" light water facilities, all of which run around 90 percent capacity (compared to 21 for wind and 30 for solar).

So-called "third generation" (our design) light water reactors have been built overseas and particularly in Asia and most are based on U.S. technology. No new reactors have been proposed in the U.S. since 1979, so it is not surprising our proposed reactor type is unknown to Americans. All new reactor designs must go through a 3-4 year design certification approval by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission before they can be approved for construction in the US.

And there are signs the U.S. is re-establishing its reputation as a place for commercial nuclear power innovation. An American-designed nuclear reactor combines a fission and fusion reactor, reducing the amount of spent fuel generated. Lead researcher Swadesh Mahajan says the design should be ready for commercial use in the next few years, by the time the first application of new reactors in the U.S. are approved.

Is this American innovation at work, or another "design that is not credible or has no known prototype"? I think the real agenda is to dismiss innovation on one hand, and then on the other hand say there are no modern 21st-century reactor designs to choose from. Does this mean no more nuclear power plants because we made improvements to the designs? Should we use this same approach with automobiles, airplanes, buildings, roads, etc. If so, we would still be driving Model T Fords and flying a Wright Brothers designed plane.

Also, we will not be using a "dry-cooled" system, as Hooley claims. It is a hybrid system, where the plant may cool itself completely by circulating water through a system of fans and heat sinks, or it may circulate cold outside water into the system for greater efficiency, or some combination of the two. This is a common cooling method for coal plants, which are usually forced to be in certain locations due to coal supplies and they must adapt to their environment. Nuclear plants are most often built where water is abundant but their old-style cooling systems are quite wasteful. Dry climates demand new approaches and water conservation and some adaptations, like Palo Verde, are much more ambitious than ours.

Palo Verde, the largest reactor in the U.S., is located in the middle of the Arizona desert and cools itself with -- get this -- treated municipal wastewater. Thankfully, Palo Verde has already been built, so naysayers can't say what a preposterous idea it would be to cool a 3,200-megawatt reactor with treated wastewater from surrounding cities. By comparison, our proposal to use a simple hybrid cooling system is much more conservative.

Hooley made a number of other misstatements, but last week's letter from Dr. Bennett set those straight. Also, Bennett stated he was unable to explain the low water usage of our project and the size of the biofuels complex.

As an academic and scientist, Bennett is technical director for the Generation IV International Forum and certainly has expertise in the technical side of nuclear power.

Regarding our water usage: hybrid cooling systems are common with thermal plants in dry areas, as we talked about above. As the Mountain Home News has reported, the Areva EPR plant can consume as few as 1 million gallons a day or less, depending on the cooling system. Low-water designs are very much a reality.

As for the biofuels complex and greenhouses, those may or may not occur, depending on market demand and other factors. We are simply proposing innovative uses for the excess heat from our reactor; we don't view it as "waste heat" but as an opportunity for more business ventures. Also, The NRC approved a Dow Chemical plant in the 1970s to operate with steam from a nuclear plant in Michigan, but it was cancelled after Three Mile Island.

Fourth generation reactors -- the kind which Bennett is working on -- will operate at about three times the temperature of existing reactors, increasing thermal efficiency, but presenting an entirely new set of engineering and regulatory challenges. Fourth generation reactors are decades away and we wish Bennett well as he focuses his talents on these conceptual and technically difficult designs.

As for us, we will stick with proven technology for our reactor and cooling systems. Our board consists of people who have dedicated their lives to the commercial nuclear industry, including a former head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and we are confident of our ability to develop a reactor.

We look forward to our April 22 hearing before the Elmore County Commission.

When Elmore's comp plan was last written, no nuclear plant was proposed, although heavy industrial uses like wind, solar and natural gas were contemplated and are allowed almost anywhere in the county.

Comprehensive plans are supposed to promote orderly growth and economic development and they are routinely excepted and updated to accommodate new opportunities and realities.

Jennifer Ransom,

AEHI vice-president

of administration