From his initial Cabinet picks, President-elect Donald Trump apparently wants to rev up the fossil fuel industry. Trump has selected the head of the world’s biggest oil company to serve as secretary of state and has identified three prominent officials who are friendly with the petroleum-producing industry — a former governor, a state attorney general and a current congressman — to serve, respectively, as the nation’s energy secretary, chief environmental regulator and federal lands manager.
Trump, of course, seems to be making good on pledges to be more accommodating to oil, natural gas and coal producers than President Barack Obama or his former heir presumptive, Hillary Clinton. Still, reports indicate Trump won’t mind going nuclear — and not just with his Twitter account.
Nuclear power fell from grace over concerns about its safety as well as its cost. Such plants are notoriously expensive and take considerable time to build because of strict permitting and construction regulations. In October, the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Watts Bar Unit 2 nuclear facility went online, helping power some 650,000 homes. It was the first new nuclear plant to open in America in 20 years — and finally started pumping juice some 43 years after ground was first broken.
The radioactive waste also presents a problem. Its waste product does have its own special concerns. Media reports indicate that under Trump, Yucca Mountain, the government’s designated storage waste site in Nevada, might be revived.
The answer to these construction and siting issues, as Lakeland Electric officials suggest, may lie with small modular reactors, or SMRs.
Back in May, Scientific American reported that the TVA had filed the nation’s first-ever application to construct an SMR.
The units have several advantages, according to the magazine. Being smaller than typical nuclear plants, they lack the monstrous startup costs. Being modular, they are mass-produced and cost-efficient. The magazine noted that France, which derives 75 percent of its power from nuclear energy, standardized design of its plants long ago. That has helped France post some of the lowest electricity prices in Europe. Finally, being smaller, SMRs can be more easily powered up or down to deal with supply-and-demand fluctuations, meaning they won’t be revenue killers when electricity prices drop.
This is an idea that bears watching, and it is good that Ivy and his team have their eyes on it — as does Trump. Last week, Bloomberg News reported that Trump’s transition team had asked the Energy Department about proposals to keep existing nuclear plants from shuttering — five plants have closed within the past five years, and another in Michigan was recently scheduled for closure in 2018 — and how to grow the SMR market.
Interest is emerging in this clean, reliable, long-lasting source of power. The question is: Will we be able to calm our qualms about nuclear energy to give it another try?
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