Ohio residents may not immediately consider nuclear energy when considering renewable sources of power; however, nuclear is an environmentally friendly means of producing electricity and can help lower greenhouse gas emissions.
This year, Ohio lawmakers are taking steps to revitalize Ohio’s two nuclear power plants by providing subsidies and encouraging next-generation nuclear technology development within their borders.
The Davis-Besse nuclear plant in Oak Harbor, Ohio, has recently been the center of much safety concern. After experiencing a near accident considered severe by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), this safety incident has sparked calls for changes. To make improvements that will mitigate such situations in future incidents, feedback from both the public and industry is being collected to implement change.
Davis-Besse’s incident was caused by the failure of one of three safeguards to stop radioactive release, with its most critical barrier being the reactor vessel head’s quarter-inch stainless steel liner being compromised due to leakage from borated water from within the reactor vessel itself. Due to borated water leakage into this liner from inside its container, six inches were eroded over time, creating an 11×11 football-sized void only prevented by the timely shutdown by NRC inspectors – something they should have done sooner, potentially avoiding this incident altogether.
Davis-Besse’s most critical flaw was a design flaw in its high-pressure safety injection pumps (HPI), used to inject cooling water into reactor vessels and keep nuclear fuel cool. These pumps feature hydrostatic bearings – small gaps between the shaft and an outer casing that should reduce wear-and-tear by keeping non-moving parts separate – intended to minimize wear-and-tear contact between moving parts and non-moving ones and minimize wear-and-tear wear on non-moving parts and reduce wear-and-tear wear on non-moving parts – another design flaw that caused significant issues at Davis-Besse.
One issue with this design was its use of an unapproved nuclear plant lubricant during construction and addition without sufficient testing or documentation, leading to the degradation of HPI pumps and increasing the risk of accidental coolant loss incidents.
Periodically, nuclear fuel is removed from its reactor and placed into a steel-lined pool of water; this process is known as “refueling,” with spent fuel being transported directly into a permanent storage facility for permanent disposal. Refueling occurs yearly to replace some old with new energy; some old energy may also be replaced with fresh material during this process.
Davis-Besse plant also hosts many species of wildlife. These include belted kingfishers, herons, and spotted turtles; unfortunately, the latter species is endangered in Ohio due to habitat destruction, pet trade, and poaching threats.
Ohio’s Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear power plants are struggling due to competition from cheaper natural gas prices, and FirstEnergy, their owner, has threatened closure unless a bailout solution can be found – which prompted it to spend $30 million over 2018 and 2019 on campaigns designed to influence state lawmakers and regulators.
According to POWER magazine, this was the highest payout ever for one corporate PAC in history, signaling how nuclear energy cannot compete against cheaper renewable sources like solar or wind energy.
Under regular operation, nuclear power plants generate electricity by fissioning atoms in their reactor core. This energy is then used to heat water for steam production that drives turbines that generate electricity and feed it back into the grid. Nuclear plants may also generate radioactive waste, which must be stored and disposed of appropriately over time.
The Portsmouth site already holds a substantial amount of waste. Uranium enrichment operations ran there from 1954 to 2001 and produced nuclear weapon-grade material. Now hosting the American Centrifuge Project by nuclear fuel company Centrus, working alongside DOE to develop high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) using domestic technology, Portsmouth hosts more waste than ever.
HALEU will be used in advanced nuclear reactors to replace imported LWR fuel, helping decrease U.S. dependence and preserve domestic manufacturing jobs. However, its operation presents numerous environmental concerns, chief being site safety.
The plant must store nuclear waste and deal with an ongoing cleanup of its site – which serves as home to rare orchids and turtles – in addition to radioactive mill tailings and low-level waste storage areas.
The proposed law would establish a new nuclear authority under the Ohio Department of Development, giving it broad discretion in contracting with any entity it wishes. According to its director, Ohio should become an international leader in nuclear research, commercial isotope production waste reduction, and storage technology – but so far, the bill has received little public support, and opponents have voiced doubts about its intentions.
Nuclear power plants are among the most highly regulated businesses. They face scrutiny by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and industry professionals through peer reviews. Furthermore, each plant features multiple sets of redundant and diverse plant safety systems designed to keep fuel rods cooled enough.
Nuclear plants produce radioactive waste that must be safely stored and disposed of. However, it’s important to remember that any radiation released in a nuclear accident falls well within federal guidelines; no studies have ever demonstrated harm from radiation emitted by one.
However, accidents still can happen despite precautions taken. Common causes for such mishaps include human errors, equipment failures, and natural disasters; more serious incidents include reactor core meltdowns resulting in explosions and radioactive material release into the environment.
Although nuclear accidents are relatively infrequent, we must be prepared for them should they occur. The NRC has implemented a comprehensive plan to respond to nuclear accidents, including coordination with local emergency response agencies. Each atomic plant also maintains a system to track any radioactive releases to the NRC for reporting.
NRC inspectors have recently begun scrutinizing FirstEnergy’s Davis-Besse and Perry plants due to reports of issues with backup systems last year but have reassured residents that both are safe despite FirstEnergy entering bankruptcy protection for its generation subsidiaries.
Nuclear energy offers many advantages over fossil fuels; for one thing, it doesn’t generate greenhouse gasses and provides a reliable electricity source. A single uranium fuel pellet contains as much energy as 17 cubic feet of natural gas or 149 gallons of oil!
However, some individuals remain wary about nuclear energy. Their concerns include fears that plants will be unsafe or emit harmful radiation into the air; additionally, there’s the fear of potential nuclear power plant disaster and uncertainty over where radioactive waste will end up being stored.
Ohio State Senate members are deliberating whether to pass a nuclear subsidy subsidy to prevent the closure of Ohio’s two nuclear plants. At issue is House Bill 6, legislation often misinterpreted; it would intend to sunset prescriptive renewable-only subsidies and green energy mandates while providing more generalized “clean energy” subsidies that include nuclear.
Davis-Besse and Perry, nuclear power plants, are situated along Lake Erie in northwestern Ohio, producing over 40% of electricity used by residents there and contributing over $1 billion in taxes and payments to local governments. While once among the most efficient and cleanest in America, their operators now face considerable financial obstacles; their plants require significant investments to remain operational due to new environmental regulations, making their continued operation no longer economical.
FirstEnergy, the owner of these plants, has attempted to persuade electric ratepayers in recent years to pay a surcharge to help subsidize them – similar to bailouts provided to coal and nuclear plants in states like Illinois, New Jersey, and New York.
However, lawmakers have expressed reservations about these proposals and this plan. They emphasize the need to diversify one’s energy portfolio and are working towards developing cost-cutting technologies like thorium molten salt reactors as an alternative solution.
According to reports in Ohio’s newspaper, The Blade, Ohio House Representative Larry Householder introduced legislation designed to advance research and bring commercial companies to Ohio from small nuclear reactors. Householder has co-sponsored several bills related to atomic energy that stalled during 2018, such as one regarding bailout bills for failing reactors; these funds include donations from dark money vehicles that support energy industries and several candidates supporting small nuclear reactors in primary elections.
The bill would establish an Ohio Nuclear Development Authority within the Department of Development with broad discretion to contract with JobsOhio, a state-created nonprofit exempted from state public records law. Furthermore, this agency could set aside funds for grants and loans.