Planting Seeds for a New CA Nuclear Plant
By Sasha Khokha, KQED Climate Watch
Backers of a new Fresno "clean energy park" aim to use nuclear power to clean up salty irrigation water in California’s Central Valley.
They see the state’s 35-year-old moratorium on expansion of nuclear power as a mere speed bump in the road. They wouldn't be the first. There have been several attempts to challenge the ban over the years – in the courts, in the legislature, and even a couple false starts through the initiative process.
But the idea of simply drawing up plans for a plant and gearing up to build it – without getting permission from the state – that’s a new approach, which I explain in my Wednesday radio feature for The California Report.
Fresno Nuclear CEO John Hutson told me he thinks it would be much more profitable to sell precious clean water to farmers than to generate electricity for the grid.
“Why should we sell electricity when we could clean enough water to irrigate 40 thousand acres of Thompson seedless grapes?”, Hutson asked. He also plans to make water bottles out of the captured salts and fill them with fresh, desalinated water. I wonder how many of those he'd have to sell to finance two 1600-megawatt reactors?
KQED’s Quest first talked to Hutson several years ago about his plan to build a nuclear plant next to a Fresno wastewater treatment plant. At that point, he was talking about selling electricity and possibly introducing a ballot initiative to overturn the moratorium, enacted in 1976.
But now he’s simply plowing forward, teaming up with French energy giant Areva to draw up plans for a clean energy park that would include solar, desalinization, and nuclear. They've even produced an animated tour of the proposed park:
Meanwhile, some of the state’s anti-nuclear activists are pushing in the other direction. They hope to collect signatures for a proposed ballot initiative which would expand the current moratorium to the point of shutting down power generation at the state’s two existing nuclear plants.
The initiative’s author, Ben Davis, told me he’s not quite ready to knock on doors yet. He sent a letter to the state Attorney General’s office voicing concern about the state’s summary of the proposed initiative. He doesn’t like the clause that predicts a full nuclear stoppage could cost Californians billions of dollars a year due to electricity interruptions and rate increases.
“It misleads the public,” Davis said. “It’s written as if they handed the proposal to the nuclear industry and asked them to write whatever they wanted.” And he wants the summary to include a more specific estimate of what a nuclear disaster like Fukushima could cost the state.
Sasha Khokha is a multimedia producer for KQED Climate Watch, a Climate Central content partner.