Dear Editor,

Reed Searle (in his May 31 column, “Why consider nuclear power for Utah?”) makes the case for “clean, affordable” nuclear power.

It is clean of course – well, if nothing goes wrong in the next 100 centuries. You may have faith in engineers, but trust me (I’m one of ‘em), we make mistakes (remember Chernobyl?) and sometimes our own good judgment is overridden by cost/schedule concerns (remember the perfectly out of focus Hubble telescope mirror?).

But affordable? Hindsight by non-industry organizations shows that the industry has been historically far too optimistic: An academic report from Vermont Law – the Cooper Report on Nuclear Economics – presents several studies that show that in the “great bandwagon market” of 1970-85, and again in the “nuclear renaissance” era of the early 2000s, early estimates compared to later actual/realistic ones, especially when the cost of money is factored in, were typically 2-4 times too low. Expect future nuclear power to cost 15-30 cents/kWh, compared to the present rate of about 10 cents. Renewable energy can be competitive at these rates, although Mr. Searle is correct in that intermittent renewable sources can’t provide base load power.

Mr. Searle doesn’t mention that Blue Castle’s big problem isn’t water – it’s transmission lines. There aren’t any big ones near Green River and no near-term plans to build one, probably by PacifiCorp (aka Rocky Mountain Electric). The 500 kV HVDC line built for Mr. Searle’s IPP plant can carry about 2 GW from Utah to L.A. Since Blue Castle plans 3 GW, more than one line may be required to link the plant with the Western grid.

Finally, I suspect much of this is moot. I’m guessing that Mr. Searle and Mr. Tilton (president of BC Holdings), while maintaining an interested public face, are focusing on shale gas plants instead. Cooling water issues remain – any steam plant requires it, and CO2/global warming issues remain. But shale gas may give us time to keep investing in renewable sources such as biogas (remember algae in your science class?) and passive solar. It’s a great investment for the future.

– Mike Duncan, Moab