Converting Zimmer plant to nuclear will contain energy costs

My electric bill last month was 50% higher than a year ago for similar power usage. I understand it is due to rising costs: coal, natural gas − and especially renewables. How can we contain these cost increases?

Convert the William H. Zimmer Power Station in Moscow, Ohio, to nuclear. Vistra Energy plans to shut the plant down; its output must be replaced. According to a 2020 study by the International Energy Agency, nuclear power is the least expensive low carbon technology. Zimmer was 97% completed for nuclear power when converted to coal. How hard can it be to reconfigure it for nuclear?

Consider the non-fossil alternatives. Nuclear fusion will not be an option for decades − if ever. Wind and solar produce power only when the sun is shining or the wind velocity is not too high or too low. They require natural gas backup—and a lot of land.

These problems are solved with nuclear power. It’s produced 24/7, CO2-free. Nuclear energy is concentrated: a half inch uranium fuel pellet contains the energy equivalent of one ton of coal. A nuclear room would replace its coal-based electricity on the present site.

The utility, economy, and safety of nuclear power is proven by almost 70 years’ experience by the US Navy and the power industry. Although concerns are raised about radioactive waste from spent nuclear fuel, a US Department of Energy webpage shows this is a non-issue. Here are a few facts:

  • The quantity is small and controllable. A nuclear room would average only about 6 cubic yards of waste per year.
  • It can be recycled, as France and many other countries do. (The US should follow suit.)
  • Comprehensive federal regulations – developed over 70 years’ experience – ensure safe disposal with no danger to the public.

By being recyclable and CO₂-free, nuclear power is sustainable.

By contrast, solar panel and wind turbine waste may become a significant problem in the coming decades. The toxic chemicals in solar panels make landfills undesirable, and landfill disposal of the huge wind turbines is currently the only viable option.

Concerns about nuclear safety are also raised. However, comprehensive surveys comparing deaths from the various forms of energy − considering mining, fabrication, construction and power production − find wind, solar and nuclear are roughly equivalent in deaths and CO2 emissions per gigawatt, and far better than all other forms of energy.

These data also illustrate that concerns about nuclear accidents are overrated. Only the Chernobyl incident in 1986 – due to bureaucratic mismanagement – resulted in directly identifiable deaths or serious consequences. All the incidents over 70 years have led to corrective action to make nuclear power safer, and extensive federal regulations ensure the safety and security of nuclear power plants. Today, Japan has made nuclear power the focus of its CO2-free electricity ; Sweden sees it as the solution to European dependence on Russian oil and gas and plans new nuclear plants.

In this day of electric cars, it is not enough to merely replace the electricity produced by Zimmer; we will need more. We should follow Japan and Sweden by making nuclear power the safe, sustainable, CO₂-free solution. Hugh Henry is the commissioner (Kentucky) of the Central Midwest Low Level Radioactive Waste Commission and an adjunct professor of physics at Northern Kentucky University.

Hugh Henry

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