Mid-Missouri lawmakers: State still needs nuclear expansion

Westinghouse pulling back from idea of small reactors

Missouri still must pursue a nuclear option for producing more electricity, even though Westinghouse Electric has said it’s backing off plans to produce “small modular reactors,” known as SMRs, that Missouri leaders had been supporting.

“Nuclear still is extremely important,” state Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, told the News Tribune on Tuesday. “And it’s going to be important, really, I believe, for the long term.”

State Rep. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, added: “Nuclear power is a proven, safe, plentiful and clean source of power generation.

“Renewable energy sources such as solar and wind are not solely the answer because, when used alone, they are not realistic solutions to meet Missouri’s demand for energy.”

With AmerenMissouri, the state’s other investor-owned utilities, the electric cooperatives and the municipal generators like Columbia and Fulton as partners, Westinghouse twice applied for funding for its SMRs through the U.S. Energy department’s SMR commercialization program.

Westinghouse estimated each 225-megawatt SMR could provide power to about 45,000 residential homes.

Ameren pledged to add Westinghouse SMRs to its Callaway Power Plant near Reform, which already has an 1,190 megawatt nuclear reactor — also built by Westinghouse and operating since December 1984 — providing electricity to about “811,000 average households” each day, according to Ameren’s “Callaway Energy Center Facts and Statistics.”

But Westinghouse lost twice in the effort to get the federal Energy Department money — in November 2012 and again last December.

Westinghouse’s plan to pull back from SMRs was reported this weekend in the Pittsburgh, Pa., Post-Gazette newspaper.

Danny Roderick, Westinghouse Electric’s president and CEO, told the Pittsburgh paper his company recently “reprioritized” the staff devoted to SMR development, focusing their efforts to the AP1000 reactor, instead.

The AP1000 is Westinghouse’s full-scale, new generation, pressurized water reactor currently under construction in China and the U.S.

“The problem I have with SMRs is not the technology, it’s not the deployment,” Roderick told the newspaper, “it’s that there’s no customers.

“The worst thing to do is get ahead of the market.”

State Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, told the News Tribune in an email: “Westinghouse, as business professionals who are keenly in tune with the markets, has determined that the SMR market is not yet ripe, and that the need for increased nuclear capacity is best filled by larger facilities currently in production.

“I am sure that Westinghouse, who has been involved in the nuclear industry for decades, will again pursue SMR technology when the time is right and the market supports it.”

Warren Wood, Ameren’s vice president of regulatory and legislative affairs, told the Pittsburgh newspaper the St. Louis-based electricity provider to about 1.2 million Missouri customers is “stepping back and considering our alternatives.”

“We have an opportunity to watch some of the different technologies further evolve,” Wood said. “We don’t have to make a decision immediately as to what capacity would look like.”

Both Bernskoetter and Kehoe referred to a continued “war on coal” by the Obama administration and the federal Environmental Protection Agency as a reason to keep focused on new power sources.

“We need to look no further than (the power plant shutdown at) Chamois to see that the Obama Administration’s war on coal continues with ever increasing intensity,” Kehoe said. “Nuclear power is reliable and able to fill the capacity that will soon be off-line due to aging coal plants and ever-increasing regulations.

“I believe that increased baseload capacity via nuclear technology best ensures efficient and cost-effective delivery, regardless of whether or not it is produced by large or small units.”

Mid-Missourians in Columbia and Fulton get their electricity from municipal providers who rely on coal.

But Schaefer noted, those operators and the Rural Electric Cooperatives also backed Ameren’s efforts to develop more nuclear generation at the Callaway plant.

“We need to ensure that Missouri is a business friendly state so that businesses, like Westinghouse, who are looking to manufacture energy sources are willing to locate to our state or to utilize the services that existing businesses have to make us a competitive option for employers,” Bernskoetter said.

But Schaefer, who also chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, doesn’t expect state government to be providing money for a future nuclear venture.

The complete Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story can be found at www.post-gazette/business/2014/02/02/Westinghouse-back-off-small-nuclear-plants/stories/201402020074.

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