Returning Colorado to “the power of the atom”

May 18, 2022, 9:30AMANS Nuclear Cafe
Fort St. Vraine (Photo: NRC)

In a May 15 piece, the editorial board of The Denver Gazette has weighed in on Colorado’s continuing controversy regarding how the state gets its electricity. While the current discourse in the state primarily pits fossil fuels against wind and solar, the board asks, “How about an energy source that generates almost limitless power, leaves no carbon footprint, and produces practically no emissions? It’s nuclear power—as green as you can get.”

The debate: The editorial begins by noting the skyrocketing natural gas prices in Colorado and pointing out that consumers everywhere have felt the pinch of surging energy prices due to a range of factors, including the war in Ukraine. “Advocates of renewable energy, including Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, point to natural gas’s peaks and troughs as another argument for wind and solar power,” the board writes, whereas oil and gas producers counter that wind and solar power are “as unreliable as the weather that generates them.”

Lost opportunity: In the latest session of the Colorado legislature, two Republican state senators introduced a bill that would have directed Colorado’s Office of Economic Development to study the feasibility of using next-generation modular nuclear reactors as a carbon-free energy source. But, the board writes, “the majority Democrats—though big champions of other alternative fuels—simply weren’t interested. That’s too bad because nuclear power could . . . help stabilize the state’s energy market.”

The past and the present: Colorado’s first and last nuclear power plant—Fort St. Vrain—ceased operation in 1989. A rare high-temperature gas-cooled reactor, early operational problems put it in a financial hole from which it couldn’t recover. The site has since been repurposed as a natural gas generating facility.

Ironic, since, as the Gazette editorial concludes, “Colorado and the entire country have radically realigned their energy priorities in the 30-plus years since the end of nuclear power in our state. Nuclear power provides a compelling end run on the unending debate over fossil fuels versus wind and solar. It makes sense now more than ever to return to the power of the atom.”

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