House technology committee schedules hearings for Brown nuclear power-related bills

On Thursday the House Technology and Economic Development committee announced that on March 25, it will hear public testimony on four energy bills sponsored by state Sen. Sharon Brown, including three measures dealing with nuclear-energy education and economic development.

“We worked extremely hard in the Senate to produce bipartisan bills and included several amendments by my Democratic colleagues that ultimately improved the bills overall,” noted Brown, R-Kennewick. “Nuclear power is a carbon-free source of reliable, baseload power and small modular reactors are supported by the Obama administration, Governor Inslee, former-governor Chris Gregoire and nearly our entire Congressional delegation.

“It is my sincere hope that we will see similar, broad bipartisan support in the House as well.”

Brown, a member of the Senate’s energy committee and the Legislature’s leading advocate for nuclear power, referred to Senate Bill 5093 – her Nuclear Ambassadors Program – as a “game-changer” in how the state sees nuclear power and prepares its young people to enter the field.

“For many people, especially those of my generation, the term ‘nuclear power’ automatically brings to mind Chernobyl and Three Mile Island,” said Brown. “Some confuse the issue of ‘legacy waste’ from our nation’s nuclear-weapons program with the smaller, more manageable issue of commercial waste. Others worry about concerns rooted in nuclear plants designed more than four decades ago that have little relation to modern plant designs.

“New Nuclear is not your granddad’s nuclear power. Nuclear technology has made great strides since then, and is set for even greater strides with the next generation of small modular reactors. It’s critical that our young people understand next-generation nuclear technology and are prepared to compete for the high-paying jobs this clean-energy field will provide.”

SB 5093, which passed the Senate 44-5, would create a nuclear-education program aimed at helping science educators teach nuclear science and technology. The program would award grants for:

  1. classroom visitors, called nuclear ambassadors, who can introduce nuclear science and technology to students in grades 8-12; and
  2. science teachers to attend workshops on nuclear energy.

Under Brown’s bill, the nuclear-education program would be administered by the director of the Washington State University Energy Program. The Tri-Cities Republican credited amendments by Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, and Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Kitsap County, with improving the measure and helping to focus it on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education.

Senate Bill 5113 would direct the state Department of Commerce to coordinate and advance the siting and manufacturing of small modular reactors (SMRs) in the state to meet future energy, environmental and energy-security needs.

“Oregon, Idaho and Utah are engaged in discussions around SMRs; where is Washington in those discussions?” asked Brown. “We are uniquely positioned to lead in this field, but we risk being left behind if we don’t take steps now.”

Senate Bill 5091 would add nuclear-generated power to the list of alternative clean-energy sources in the state’s voluntary Green Power Program. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 29-20 after an amendment by Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, was adopted.

“In 2013, nuclear energy produced 19 percent of our nation’s electricity and prevented 589 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere, which is equal to the CO2 emitted by 113 million passenger cars,” said Brown. “Thanks to Senator McCoy’s amendment, this bill will use the Green Power Program to help educate the public about the specific role of nuclear energy in producing carbon-free baseload power for our state.”

In addition to Brown’s bills dealing with nuclear power, the House technology committee will also hear testimony on Senate Bill 5094 – Brown’s legislation to allow incremental electricity produced as a result of efficiency improvements to hydropower to qualify as “renewable” under the state’s 2006 energy-independence act. The bipartisan bill, sponsored by two Republicans and two Democrats, passed the Senate 29-20 earlier this month.