A Greener Nuclear Plant; Or, A Wolf In Cow Crap Clothing?


This is about a proposal being made in Idaho, USA, to use the waste heat from a planned nuclear generating station to generate and sell methane (natural gas) made from locally produced cow manure, while commensurately reducing future cooling water impacts on local surface waters. We think public reaction will depend on where folks stand already on the need to protect traditional agricultural values, conserve local surface water resources, and/or better manage manure. Climate Change mitigation doesn't seem like it would be the major factor. But, there's so much going on at once, it's impossible to boil it down to the usual talking points and convey fully what is at stake. Although the pros and cons certainly will try that. See what you think.

In Bruneau Idaho, USA a company plans to build the state's first commercial nuclear power plant with the support of the local dairy industry. "Alternate Energy Holdings, which plans to build a $3.5 billion nuclear power plant in Owyhee County, says it's working on an agreement with dairymen to buy their manure for methane gas production. If the plant is built - and the dairy deal goes through - the project could reduce dairy waste, produce the main component for lucrative natural gas and lessen the amount of water needed to cool the reactor." The gas produced would be sold on the open market.At first glance, yes, there could be a positive synergy from accelerating the digestion of cow manure with waste heat. By using the waste heat to warm up a manure slurry instead of a surface water heat exchanger...man this is such a new quantum level for the dirty jobs category...surface waters stay in more a natural heat flux regime, and the plant's discharge permit will become a bit easier to obtain.

We'd point out that anaerobic digestion can also take place at the farm, or in a non-nuclear cooperative for manure management. Hauling manure to any central location for processing to produce methane raises the potential of odor impacts in transportation corridors and certainly has an increased C02 emissions foot print.

If it turns out to be a CO2 burden "wash"... manure collection and transportation debits being roughly equal to the energy that otherwise would be needed to accelerate manure fermentation at a non-nuclear powered digester...then the project has merit, especially in the Idaho winter when natural manure digestion on the farm would slow greatly.

On the other hand, with any nuclear generating station proposal you are introducing an incremental risk of radionuclide release, which, if it occurred at high enough level, could contaminate the dairy food chain and essentially end the local dairy industry for a period of months to years.

Then there is the question of how much of a future regulatory relief might be created for local farmers with respect to permitting of on-site manure handling and how much reduction the farmers can expect in long term capital needed to safety manage manure on site - if manure management responsibilities re offloaded from farmer to utility.

This is complex enough that a formal environmental assessment by a third party, using real nuts and bolts engineering cost estimates, would be about the only way of fully grasping the net energy and risk outcome of the project.

Without a formal assessment, the debate will be as never-ending as the Yucca Mtn project, and come to be thought of what this post title hints at.

Via:: Times-News, Magic Valley. Image:: Three Mile Island, Harrisburg PA