20TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT Building a modern nuclear power plant could solve the 20th Congressional District’s future energy needs and bring economic prosperity within the next decade, U.S. Rep Chris Gibson said this week.
The freshman congressman is creating a bipartisan task force to explore the best way to bring clean and renewable power to his district. Gibson also plans to introduce federal legislation that would bolster areas in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that encourage private investment in nuclear power development, specifically for nuclear developments that include a reprocessing component.
Nuclear development in his district could bring an investment upward of $6 billion, Gibson estimated. And such a development could draw upon the innovations now being produced by the area’s high-tech industry.
“I’m passionate about it,” he said during an interview Thursday. “I think it can be a game-changer for our economy.”
Gibson didn’t specify an area for nuclear development in the sprawling district, which extends along the Hudson River from Dutchess County in the south to Essex County in the north. Rather, he would encourage communities to lobby for such a project, which could infuse a local economy with billions of dollars in private financing.
“It’s safe, abundant and clean,” he said of modern nuclear reactor design.
But some environmental groups don’t share his sentiments. Manna Jo Greene, environmental action director for Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, said investing in nuclear development is forestalling the logical investment in genuinely clean energy sources, such as wind and solar power.
“Why go down that path when there are much cleaner and safer alternatives that are available to us?” she asked.
There are six reactors throughout the state, but none near the Capital Region. Gibson said the absence of nuclear energy in this area of the state is conspicuous. “Take a look at what’s glaringly missing. It’s the Capital Region,” he said.
Plans were afoot to construct a nuclear plant utilizing the Hudson River in the Washington County town of Easton during the late 1960s. Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation proposed building a $110 million, 766,000-kilowatt facility and commissioned General Electric Co. to build generator units for the plant.
Preliminary site work began in 1967, but the project became mired in the approval process. Some estimates later showed that discharges from the plant’s cooling system could raise the Hudson River’s water temperature by up to 5 degrees near the site.
Ultimately, the project was scrapped. The 1,000-acre site was eventually sold into a conservation trust that will keep it protected from development.
Greene said the same issues would face any prospective nuclear development along the Hudson, which already supports two plants at Indian Point in Westchester County. She said the river is already facing a decline in 10 of the 13 signature fish species and is still on the rebound from PCB contamination, both of which make another nuclear plant a bad fit along its shores.
“I don’t think the Hudson needs to bear the burden of another nuclear power plant,” she said.
But Gibson said a lot has changed since Niagara Mohawk’s foray into nuclear power in the region. He said advancements in nuclear power generation have drastically improved safety and markedly reduced environmental impacts.
“This is not your father’s nuclear power plant we’re talking about here,” he said.
Gibson also isn’t under the illusion that a nuclear plant could be brought to the region quickly or easily. He estimated that such a development would take up to 10 years to plan and would require an immense amount of cooperation among a variety of stakeholders.
“This is something that’s going to require wide and comprehensive cooperation across party lines and across governmental lines,” he said.
Nuclear power was among the sources of energy President Barack Obama cited for clean energy development during his State of the Union Address on Tuesday. The president suggested a diverse portfolio of energy sources to make up 80 percent of the nation’s electricity from clean sources by 2035.
“Some folks want wind and solar. Others want nuclear, clean coal and natural gas,” he said during the speech. “To meet this goal, we will need them all — and I urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to make it happen.”
In November, the New York Climate Action Council released an interim report suggesting nuclear power as one of the low-carbon alternatives to fossil-fired plants. The council’s goal through policy changes is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent of the levels recorded in 1990 over the next four decades.
The report identifies the important role existing commercial reactors play in providing low-carbon energy for the state, but acknowledges that nuclear generation is more of a long-term solution to achieve carbon emission goals. The report also suggests a possible shift from large-scale reactors to smaller ones.
“In all cases, the relicensing, replacement with new units at the same facilities, or the development of new nuclear energy facilities needs to be done in a safe and environmentally sound manner,” the report states.