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Critics: Nuclear Not Needed in Snake River Replacement Plan

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A plan to replace electricity generated by four lower Snake River dams includes $10 billion for renewable sources like wind and solar. (Oleg Kovtun/Adobe Stock)
A plan to replace electricity generated by four lower Snake River dams includes $10 billion for renewable sources like wind and solar. (Oleg Kovtun/Adobe Stock)
 By Eric Tegethoff - Producer, Contact
March 24, 2021

BOISE, Idaho -- Nuclear energy could be part of the mix to replace power from four lower Snake River dams if they're removed.

Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, has an extensive plan, which calls for removing the four dams to aid the ailing salmon populations of the Northwest.

Small, modular reactors to produce nuclear energy could play a role in replacing their hydropower.

Ian Cotten, energy program manager for the Snake River Alliance, said the proposal also touches on increasing renewable energy, transmission capacity and energy efficiency.

"Those are all things that really excite us, at the prospect of those becoming a bigger piece of our Northwest's energy infrastructure," Cotten remarked. "But as far as the role of small modular reactors goes with this plan, it really feels like, to us, it's a piece that doesn't quite fit with the rest of the puzzle."

The $33 billion plan includes $10 billion for energy replacement once the dams are removed.

Some environmental groups say nuclear power needs to be part of the energy makeup in order to decarbonize the economy in the coming decades.

Don Safer, co-chair of the Sierra Club Nuclear Free Campaign, said energy isn't the only product of the industry; it also produces radioactive waste.

"There's just this debit to the future that we're creating this material that we don't really know how to dispose of," Safer contended. "And the problems will become more and more pronounced as we go forward."

Simpson's Northwest infrastructure plan would modernize the region's energy sector, bringing more renewables online.

Safer noted the small modular-reactor design proposed for nuclear projects is still unproven technology, meaning the return on investment may not be as much as people assume.

"The small modular reactors are just not a good choice, especially in the West where you have plenty of solar, you have plenty of wind, and the money would be better spent developing better, cost-effective storage technology, which is coming," Safer asserted.

Simpson's plan could be included in a massive infrastructure package the Biden administration is putting together.

Disclosure: Snake River Alliance contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Energy Policy, Environment, and Nuclear Waste. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
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