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Washington state pushing for small-scale nuclear reactors

Last Updated Jan 27, 2016 at 9:51 am PST

OLYMPIA (NEWS 1130) – We don’t have any of them on this side of the border but one politician in Washington State is pushing to bring in next-generation nuclear reactors to meet its power needs.

The US hasn’t seen any nuclear power plants built since the 1970s but a new wave is being developed.

The technology itself is referred to as small modular reactors (SMRs).

“It’s sort of a plug-and-play where you can take the individual modules and plug them in so you can increase your capacity depending upon the needs,” says Sharon Brown, the Washington state senator who is spearheading the push.

The next generation reactors aren’t quite ready for production but once they are, Brown says Washington wants them.

She says the Evergreen State would be ideally suited for them because of its atomic expertise when it comes to weapons testing.

The mother of five says the technology is much safer today.

“I like to say it’s not your grandfather’s nuclear. We’ve come so far, we’ve learned so many lessons from things like Three Mile Island the technology. So it would be great if people kept an open mind,” says Brown.

But University of Toronto nuclear physicist Pekka Sinervo isn’t about possible meltdowns or other accidents.

His main concern is what happens to the nuclear waste produced.

“It is fair to say that there is a fairly large legacy of nuclear waste already sitting at Hanford in Washington State. Those are very large waste repositories that need to be dealt with,” says Sinervo.

The Hanford site represents two-thirds of the country’s high-level radioactive waste by volume and is the most contaminated nuclear site in the United States.

Sinervo says no country has yet figured out how to properly store the waste long-term.

“What does one do with nuclear waste? Neither in the United States or Canada do we have solution which I would say I am comfortable with my children or grandchildren having to live with. In the US, I think they’re even further away from a long-term solution for containing nuclear waste.”

Washington’s one working reactor at the Columbia Generating Station produces around 10 per cent of the state’s electricity.