Natural gas.
Coal.
Hydroelectric.
Co-generation.
Oil.
Wind.
Solar.

Two gerbils chasing each other in a rotating cage.

Nuclear.

Name an energy source and politicians and power providers are saying more is needed. Nuclear is at the bottom because that is where most seem to put the cheapest, most dependable, most efficient and renewable source of energy. Not America's vice president.

“If we're serious about environmental protection, then we must seriously question the wisdom of backing away from what is, as a matter of record, a safe, clean and very plentiful energy source,” said Vice President Dick Cheney recently in a national energy policy address.

A pair of Washington state senators could not agree more. Sens. Pat Hale of Kennewick and James West of Spokane wrote in the Spokane Spokesman Review recently that a major source of nuclear energy that could be brought on-line relatively quickly is a partially completed nuclear power plant near Hanford, Wash.

Already $2 billion has been spent on the WNP-1, one of five nuclear power plants proposed for an ill-fated energy farm in Western Washington. The project was killed two decades ago when it became apparent it was too expensive and energy demand was lacking to support all five plants.

Only one of the five went on-line. Two were terminated, and two mothballed. WNP-1 is 63 percent compete and WNP-3 is 76 percent complete. There have been studies since the mothballing looking at the feasibility of finishing the plants. The two state senators believe it is becoming more feasible every day.

The Pacific Northwest Energy crisis is just as critical as in California, especially this year when a drought has reduced stream flows to their lowest in years. Hydroelectric power has been a PNW mainstay for decades. Today it is woefully inadequate and likely will not be enough to meet future demand for the region.

The WNP-1 plant has a design capacity of 1,350 megawatts of energy, more than enough electricity to power Seattle.

No new nuclear plant has been built in America in more than 20 years. However, in the decades since then, the issue of nuclear waste has been addressed. Waste byproducts can now be carefully contained, packaged and stored. “If and when the federal government permits unused uranium to be recycled, there will be even less nuclear waste to manage,” added the senators.

In the wake of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, the worldwide nuclear energy industry has worked diligently to make nuclear technology even safer.

There is growing support for new nuclear power plants. A poll conducted by the Nuclear Energy Institute in January showed that 52 percent of respondents agreed that new nuclear power plants should be built. In October 1999 only 33 percent agreed.

West and Hale want WNP-1 completed for their state's economic well-being. However, completion of it or any of the unfinished Western Washington nuclear plants would have a major impact on the energy supply for California and other Western states.

California should at the least politically support the effort to finish the plant, and it may be a wise investment to offer financial support. It may be cheaper in the long run than all the taxpayer cash its throwing at the state's two biggest utilities.

It's also time California leaders get serious about allowing new nuclear plants to be built within California's borders.

Nuclear is the second largest energy source in America, accounting for 20 percent of the nation's energy supply. There are 103 nuclear plants operating safely in the U.S. That number should grow.

e-mail: harry_cline@intertec.com