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Seattle Anti-Nuke Resolution Compromise Keeps CGS Running
Clearing Up
June 3, 2016

The Seattle City Council unanimously approved a resolution May 31 opposing the use of fossil fuels and “new” nuclear energy, while also “requiring an ongoing evaluation of existing nuclear power generation on the basis of health, safety, reliability and cost.”

Resolution 31667 directs Seattle City Light “to reflect this position in its policies and interactions with other utilities, federal and state agencies, and organizations of which it is a member or participant,” including Energy Northwest, owner of the Columbia Generating Station, the region’s only nuclear plant.

Chuck Johnson, Joint Nuclear Power Task Force director for the Physicians for Social Responsibility’s Oregon/Washington chapter, said the resolution represents compromise language reached in negotiations with the mayor and general manager of City Light, who rejected earlier language advocating that City Light work with ENW to close CGS “as rapidly as possible.” City Light was “not gung-ho” about this, Johnson said, but agreed the language was a “reasonable compromise.”

Citing Washington state statistics, the resolution noted that City Light’s generation fuel mix included 4 percent nuclear—all of it from CGS—1 percent coal, and less than 1 percent natural gas. The utility—which proclaims itself the “nation’s greenest utility”—says it has been carbon- neutral since 2005, when it began purchasing carbon offsets.

Carbon-based replacement power was envisioned in a study by energy consultant Robert McCullough, who said the region could save $1.7 billion by shutting down CGS early. This was part of the original resolution language submitted by PSR to the city, which Seattle Mayor Ed Murray rejected because of Seattle’s commitment to non-carbon power, Johnson said.

Johnson said PSR is now looking at how to replace CGS with affordable non-carbon resources. “That seems to be the way we could potentially get consensus,” he said. The resolution does not address the cost of power, and neither City Light nor the mayor’s office returned calls seeking comment.

Energy Northwest spokesman Mike Paoli called the resolution “unfortunate,” adding, “But we do not believe it is necessarily indicative of opinions across the City of Seattle government. We don’t have any illusion that Seattle has a pro-nuke posture, but we don’t think they are anti-nuclear either.”

The resolution reflects “a lot of bad information from people who have a vested interest,” Paoli said. “Nuclear is clean, affordable energy,” he added. “I’d like to hope that at some point in the near future, the enormous value of nuclear power will be reconsidered.” PSR’s Johnson said the resolution is an incremental step that requires the city to promote and “build momentum” for the policy at groups it is a member of, such the Public Power Council and Energy Northwest. Mike Jones, City Light’s representative on the ENW board of directors, told Clearing Up that he doesn’t see the resolution as “seriously different from what we have been doing.

“We consistently use that position to push Energy Northwest to make sure the focus is on reliability, safety and cost, and this really just clarifies what we have been doing and makes it policy that we will continue to do that,” Jones said. “I don’t see it as a big departure.”

The resolution came to the full council after being approved on a 3-0 vote of the council’s Energy and Environment Committee May 24, where 11 people— including representatives of the Northwest Energy Coalition, Heart of America and Sierra Club—spoke in favor of the resolution, while three spoke against it.

Many of the supporters appeared to believe the resolution was for shutting down CGS and cited nuclear waste and CGS’s similarity to the failed Japanese Fukushima plant—and CGS’s 1970’s-era seismic specifications—as reasons for their support. But the compromise resolution speaks only of “new” nuclear power, and two of the opponents said new nuclear technology, in addition to being safer, allows for the recycling and/or burning of all nuclear waste.

While ENW opposed the resolution, Johnson said ENW’s recent efforts to test member interest in a new nuclear plant fell short, with only about a half-dozen members expressing interest in a new nuclear facility proposal.

ENW’s Paoli flatly denied that claim. He said the only new nuclear project ENW has worked on is the Carbon Free Power Project, a series of small modular reactors from NuScale that the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems has proposed. ENW has secured a first-right-of- offer for operation and maintenance.

Paoli said the 11-member ENW Executive Board voted unanimously last September to provide UAMPS nuclear consulting services, for which it has been reimbursed about $100,000 to date. Some ENW members toured NuScale’s facilities in Corvallis, Ore., he said, but no other votes or attempts to solicit participation from members for any nuclear project has occurred.

ENW hopes to find out by August if UAMPS will go forward with the project [Ben Tansey].


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