Op-Ed: Next-Gen Nuclear Power can Augment Renewable Energy Sources

Brent Ridge worked for years just a few hundred yards from a nuclear waste storage site at the Columbia Generating Station near Richland, Wash. Because he was vice-chairman of the Nuclear Safety Review Board for Columbia, Ridge was confident he wasn’t putting his health in danger by working that close to radioactive material.

Today, as the chairman and chief executive officer for Wisconsin’s Dairyland Power Cooperative, Ridge is convinced the far bigger health danger facing him, his utility customers and the world is climate change – and he thinks more nuclear generation of electricity can help avoid irreversible damage.

“The bottom line is: If we are for a less-carbon future, if you are against carbon, you need to be for nuclear. I don’t know a simpler way to put it,” Ridge said during a May 24 Wisconsin Technology Council luncheon in Madison. “If you want there to be less carbon, and you want a reliable, safe, economic grid that will keep together our economic 24/7 engine, nuclear is part of that future.”

The type of reactor envisioned by Dairyland isn’t your grandfather’s nuclear power plant – or Homer Simpson’s, for that matter. It would have independently operating modules that provide emissions-free energy as demand rises and falls, helping to smooth out the peaks and valleys of solar and wind power.

Rather than a replacement for solar, wind and other renewables, next-generation nuclear is being touted as a reliable supplement that can help meet peak demands in a transmission grid that must stop burning coal, sooner than later.

Will others Wisconsin utilities follow Dairyland’s lead? Jeff Keebler, the president and CEO of Madison Gas & Electric, told the May 24 group the utility will continue to track a mix of low-carbon sources. In a regional grid that covers much of the Midwest and part of Canada, he noted, electrons can and will come from various generation sources.

Nuclear energy need not compete with renewables, but it can augment them in a world that needs both climate remedies and reliable power.