by Michael Mann
The R. E Ginna nuclear power plant was planned and built in the early 1960’s during a time of great hope, fear and idealism. Here is an excerpt from a speech by then president JFK; “…we must hasten the development of low-cost atomic power. I think we should lead the world in this. By 1967, 1968, 1970, in the Northeast United States, where power rates are nearly double yours, we are going to find atomic power increasingly competitive, and by the end of this century this is going to be a tremendous source. Our experts estimate that half of all electric energy generated in the United States will come from nuclear sources.” JFK seems to have had a strong opinion on this subject.
The Ginna plant is located in western NY State along Lake Ontario. It earned an operating license in 1969 and started producing safe, reliable, clean power (without producing greenhouse gasses!) for the customers of RG&E in 1970. It has continued to do so ever since. Currently this is the most reliable source of electricity in the region with a capacity factor (the ratio of the theoretical maximum it could produce compared to the amount it actually produced) of over 95% – for more than a decade! It has had continuous upgrades for both safety and reliability; and is even safer and more reliable today than when it was built. This hasn’t happened by accident, but by honest and sometimes painful self-evaluations by the industry.
We at Ginna start our Institute of Nuclear Power Operations / World Association of Nuclear Operators plant visit and evaluation this month. A little explanation for those not in the nuclear power industry: for the next 2 weeks a couple dozen experts and peers from nuclear plants around the world will observe, interview, and examine every aspect of how the plant is run – both operations and maintenance. A couple months ago they were furnished with 4 years of our operational data to look for any mistakes, trends, or weaknesses. This will then be judged, not against regulations or specifications which are are already quite stringent, but against an imaginary vision of excellence which even they acknowledge is unattainable.
Their focus is on human performance, plant material condition, policies and procedures and how these things impact safety and reliability. No other industry I know of puts themselves through this kind of crucible, it is painful but the results are the safest most reliable method of producing electricity in the world. My plant happens to be the longest running nuclear power plant in the USA: it is in better material condition today than when it was built. Ginna is run by amazing, dedicated operators and maintained by the best maintenance people in existence. Now is our opportunity to prove it to our international peers!
The R.E. Ginna NPP is the longest running nuclear power plant in the USA, not simply because it is older; but because it has run better due to superior engineering, operation, and maintenance. This is something to be proud of! It has been determined that Ginna prevents the release of more than 2 million tons of carbon dioxide annually (the equivalent of taking 400,000 cars off the road), which is an important factor for the state to reach its clean air goals.
Ginna also contributes greatly to the quality of life in the local communities. It is the largest contributor to the United Way in Wayne County and actively supports the annual “Day of Caring.” Ginna employees serve their communities as volunteer firefighters, scout leaders, emergency medical technicians, and board members. The people who work at Ginna are your neighbors, your friends and your family.
There have been rumors of closing down the Ginna plant. Shutting down Ginna prematurely would force most to leave the area. This (coupled with the loss of tax revenue, local charity donations, and patronage of area businesses) would be devastating to the local economy. Where will Western New York rate-payers’ power come from when when Ginna shuts down? I doubt it will be produced locally. Instead of being recycled into the community, that money will go elsewhere to a dirtier baseload and RE backup power producer. It’s no coincidence that opposition to the continued operation of Ginna is from outside the local area. Reduced electric supply will inevitably cause rates to increase and reliability to decrease. Shutting down Ginna will be painful, like running into a brick wall.
Lets not accelerate into this crash. Let’s instead look for ways to avoid damages and use the time until 2029 (when Ginna’s current license expires) to find the best way to replace Ginna’s power, or re-license Ginna through 2049 – whatever is the best solution. Robert E. Ginna and John F. Kennedy shared a vision of clean, reliable and affordable power. That nuclear goal is still a good one.
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Michael Mann is a 27 year veteran of the energy industry, with an additional 8 years as a reactor operator on nuclear US Navy submarines, currently employed at the R.E. Ginna Power Station. The opinions expressed here are his own and may differ from those of his employer.