NGE3_0016 NuScale Power Module - in bay top down cross-section
  1. NuScale small modular reactor cutaway showing the internal components. The 77 MW reactor is 76 feet tall and 15 feet in diameter and is submerged in water to provide cooling during a module shutdown. As many as 12 modules can be installed in a single power plant. Individual modules can be taken offline for service or refueling while the others continue operating.

As green energy supporters urgently advocate renewable energy, reasonable people of all political persuasions should laud Pueblo County’s push for nuclear power.

The Gazette this week reported Pueblo County wants a compromise on the future of the jurisdiction’s troublesome energy economy. The county’s proposal comes after the giant public utility Xcel Energy proposed closing its coal-fired plant at its Comanche Generating Station — the state’s largest greenhouse-gas-emitting power plant — by 2040, three decades early. Environmental advocates want the plant closed by the end of the decade.

County Commissioner Garrison Ortiz and his fellow commissioners want a compromise from state regulators if Xcel closes Comanche that soon. They want nuclear energy as part of the solution.

Ortiz explained the county’s pragmatic interest in nuclear power comes after assessing which renewable energy technologies might be available in the next decade. That led commissioners to learn about new nuclear development. They believe small modular reactor (SMR) technology provides the best alternative to coal. That’s because, commissioners say, the SMR technology would enable Xcel to repurpose much of Comanche’s generating infrastructure rather than tearing it down and building something new at a burdensome cost to ratepayers.

The Gazette reported the County Commission is interested in the SMR technology of a company like Oregon-based NuScale Power. It would enable the plant to support the county with more than $15 million annually in tax revenues and more than 100 high-paying jobs.

Next month, the county will know what plan Xcel plans to take to the state’s Public Utilities Commission. For now, Xcel is relatively mum on their idea for the plant and takes a “we’re engaging with stakeholders” approach. Company spokeswoman Michelle Aguayo told The Gazette this week that Xcel Energy “remains committed to the area.”

The Pueblo commission likes the NuScale prospect for several good reasons. In addition to saving and repurposing Commanche, it should quell the top concern raised by anti-nuclear activists: safety. NuScale’s patented technology, approved by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, has not been used. If and when it is, expect none of the disaster scenarios predicted by nuclear opponents.

Each of NuScale’s modules, the company says, consumes only 1/ 20th of the nuclear fuel used in a large-scale reactor. The modules can be taken offline for maintenance or refueling while other modules operate — something not possible in traditional nuclear plants. The new technology incorporates an external cooling design to prevent a meltdown such as the one in 2011 in Fukushima, Japan.

When Pueblo County considered nuclear power in 2011, the commission rejected it after the Fukushima meltdown. Today’s commissioners know that NuScale’s technology relies on none of the backup generators and battery banks that flooded in Fukushima and exacerbated the disaster.

Given the facts, reasonable people see nuclear technology as clean, cheap abundant and safe — especially when green advocates predict a self-inflicted apocalypse if we continue burning fossil fuels. Michael Shellenberger, founder and president of Environmental Progress and author of “Apocalypse Never,” documents that fewer than 200 have died from nuclear power generation worldwide since its inception.

Shellenberger addresses the three big disasters nuclear opponents focus on.

1. The Three Mile Island nuclear crisis of 1979 leaked no more radiation than a chest X-ray.

2. The communist Soviet Union’s negligent safety procedures, never seen in the West, led to the Chernobyl meltdown of 1986. Even then, radiation caused fewer than 50 deaths.

3. At Fukushima, despite the earthquake and tsunami, radiation leaks killed no one. France gets 70% of its power from nuclear energy and has no plants on the big-disaster list.

The state and Xcel should recognize where and when a leader like Ortiz — one charged with ensuring the short- and long-term economic viability of the region he serves — extends an olive branch that would benefit a town struggling economically. Refurbishing Comanche into a nuclear plant would be a win for nearly everyone.

It is not only a compromise to the conflict. It’s the solution to a problem.

The Gazette Editorial Board