In spite of the recent nuclear incident in Fukushima, Japan, nuclear fission is still the most reliable, safest and clean method to generate electricity. Presenters at the New Mexico Nuclear Energy Conference in Hobbs this week said Lea County is poised to take a lead role in the growth of the industry.
It was expressed over and over during the conference that the incident in Japan was a blow to the nuclear industry, but it is expected to rebound after some redesign of nuclear power plants with better safeguards and a better understanding of the nuclear process.
In fact, a refinery fire that was caused by the earthquake in Japan released a host of poisonous gases much more dangerous that the radiation that has been released by the reactor in the Fukushima incident, said Dr. Dan Romero, Vice President of Research and Economic Development and professor of physics at New Mexico Tech.
He said reactors have been proven safe and efficient and pointed to the 90 reactors that are on American subs and ships around the world today without any incidents.
Former U.S. Senator for New Mexico, Pete Domenici was the keynote speaker for the event and told the audience that New Mexico is poised to lead the way in nuclear waste disposal. He serves on the Presidential Blue Ribbon Commission on Nuclear Waste.
He praised the commitments of companies such as Urenco and International Isotopes who have made commitments to the nuclear industry and located in Lea County’s EnergyPlex.
“The citizenry in this part of New Mexico has taken the time to learn about nuclear energy and the problems and good things associated with nuclear power in the United States,” he said.
He said the people in this part of the country are unique and are more informed about nuclear power and the disposal of nuclear waste than anywhere else in the country.
“We don’t run and hide when nuclear energy is mentioned,” he said. “We sit down and learn, elect people who understand, and then we work together to make sure that the facts, not the myths, of nuclear energy, and everything that goes with it, are totally understood.”
Domenici said the country is just now getting around to dealing with the waste from the reactors and feels it will be one of the biggest challenges faced in the near future.
“A commitment must be made by the United States to dispose of the waste products that are spread out across our nation at power plants and other storage facilities,” he said.
He said part of the solution to the problem is to use the information gleaned from the WIPP project.
Eight members of the Blue Ribbon Commission visited WIPP recently at the invitation of Domenici. He said members of the group told him after touring the facility that WIPP is the best thing the country has ever done to help understand “were we are as a nation as to the disposition of nuclear waste.”
“It tells us the United States has the know-how and we can do it,” he said.
He said the country owes Lea and Eddy county a “bid hearty thank you” for going the extra mile in getting educated and participating in the nuclear power solution.
Domenici says the country now needs to do the research to bridge the gap from the WIPP development (storage of low level waste) to storage of high-level waste. He estimates it will take two to five years of development before moving ahead with permanent repository storage for nuclear waste.
“Because an accident happened in Japan, some people may want this to slip for many years,” said Domenici, “I don’t think that is what we should do.”
One of the world’s biggest problems is finding energy for the future…and Lea County is right in the middle of it.