Washington governor supports placing small reactor at Hanford site

Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire has formally endorsed the idea of placing a small modular reactor to generate power at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Hanford nuclear site in the desert of southeastern Washington state.

The sprawling Hanford site is home to several old nuclear reactors and their associated processing facilities that were built beginning in 1943. According to the Hanford website, these old reactors were used to produce plutonium for U.S. atomic bombs during World War II and throughout the Cold War.

Energy Northwest’s Columbia nuclear plant is also located within the Hanford site and would provide ample existing infrastructure for a small modular reactor, or SMR, Gregoire, a Democrat, said recently.

“I urge you to consider meeting USDOE’s own power demands by siting an SMR at Hanford, thereby advancing new SMR technology development while meeting DOE’s electricity needs,” Gregoire said in a May 21 letter to Secretary of Energy Steven Chu.

Gregoire said Hanford’s so-called Waste Vitrification Plant will require an additional 70 MW of electric power by the end of the decade. DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory will require about 30 MW more.  

The Washington governor goes on to note that DOE is in the midst of issuing a public-private cost sharing agreement to encourage development of small modular reactors in the United States. “The state of Washington leads the nation in exports to the Pacific Rim” and could help in the export of modular reactor products to that region of the world, the governor added.

Siting an SMR at Hanford would also help offset the loss of jobs as Hanford cleanup work advances. By this October, Hanford will have cut 3,000 staff people since September 2011. That’s nearly a 20% reduction of the cleanup workforce since 2010, the governor said.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.