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Dems, Republicans Call for Defunding URI Nuke Facility

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

 

Aerial of the Rhode Island Nuclear Science Center

Rhode Island's only nuclear reactor is under fire from the left and the right, with both sides of the political spectrum questioning the ongoing costs associated with operating the fifty year old facility.

"At some point we have to decommission this, it doesn't matter the cost," said former Democratic State Representative Ray Rickman, who has been an outspoken critic of the nuclear facility since his days in the General Assembly. "It doesn't have any power, so it can't do great harm if it explodes. We have to worry about a leak. They've had this free ride for 50 plus years. It's enough. I see nothing in the budget that's more of a ripoff."

The Rhode Island FY2015 budget proposed by Governor Chafee calls for $1.2 million for the Rhode Island Atomic Energy Commission, which oversees the Rhode Island Nuclear Science Center (RINSC) on the University of Rhode Island campus.

The RINSC is home to a 2 mega-watt, light water cooled nuclear reactor built in 1960, which has served as a research center for students and researchers. "There are only 31 research and test reactors in the United States and luckily for the state, one resides here. We are very focused on providing educational support for the state’s middle schools, high schools and universities," said RINSC Director Cameron Goodwin.

Mike Stenhouse with the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, a free market think tank, questioned its continued use -- and budget allocation.  

"It's being used by professors and for education, but we ask is when our budget is so strapped, and money is so wanting, can we afford this right now?" asked Stenhouse. "You don't have to take and all or nothing approach -- can we cut that in half? If you look at decommissioning, this could be a mid-range step."

Stenhouse's Center for Freedom for Prosperity bills itself as nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to providing concerned citizens, the media, and public officials with empirical research data, while also advancing free-market solutions to public policy issues in the state -- is part of the State Policy Network, which is "fighting to limit government and advance market friendly public policy."

"The liberal getting together with the conservatives -- there's a theory the left and right aren't that far apart," said Rickman. "We're the biggest civil liberties people going. I'm opposed to waste, I want to see it for social programs. They're just opposed to waste. They want tax cuts, I want swimming pools. We can fight on how to spend it."

Research, Education, and Safety

The budget touts the facility being used for medical, biological, environmental, and materials research, education and commercial activities, including environmental monitoring programs, and the development of new radio-pharmaceuticals.

"Last fiscal year, we gave approximately 40 tours of the facility and provided 35 laboratories/classes. We are already on track to exceed last year’s numbers," said Goodwin. "Within the past few months, the facility has been visited or used by students and researchers from URI, Providence College, Brown University, The Greene School in West Greenwich, Three River Community College in Connecticut, Central Falls High School, Rogers High School in Newport, BioPAL Laboratories of Worcester, Holtec International, Rhode Island Hospital and the Boy Scouts of America."

Addressing the issue of decommissioning the facility, Cameron spoke to the costs associated, and if there was even a need to do so.

"Unlike power plants, research reactors don’t have a set lifespan. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission must relicense them every 20 years. A licensing review is expected to be completed this year for the state's reactor. Keeping it running is also cheaper than shutting it down, as the estimated cost to decommission the URI plant is about $30 million. The cost of building a new one at URI or anywhere else would be even more," said Cameron. "There is no age limit for the facility. We can continue to operate as long as we receive relicensing from the NRC. 

The proposed 2015 budget outlines performance measures, which show that outreach hours were just shy of the 2013 goals, as well as that the NRC inspects the facility biannually to ensure compliance with Federal regulations, and reported one "level IV non-cited violation" in 2012.

"I don't do scare tactics -- I don't say it will explode and kill a half million people. There's only one scenario, that's horrendously bad, is having a major hurricane or event, and it falling into [Narragansett] Bay," said Rickman. "I am more concerned that it's old, and there was an incident in recent years where a student was exposed to radiation. If there are exposure issues, lawsuits, that's a cost issue to consider in continuing to maintain an outdated facility.""

During the February 14 meeting of the Atomic Energy Commission, reference was made to pending litigation regarding the former Assistant Director of Safety -- a position which is currently vacant, but neither Goodwin nor the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) would comment. "We don't comment on pending litigation," said Diane Screnci, Senior Public Affairs Officer at the NRC.  

Costs Called into Question

Rickman said that he disputed the cost estimates put forth. "I've talked with the people in the field, and it costs $600,000, $700,000 a year to do over several years. We might be looking at $3 million over the three years," said Rickman. "They're saying $30 million. I'd like to see where that quote comes from. A Michigan facility five times its size was recently decommissioned for $10 million."

Michigan Live reported in September that in 2004, the University of Michigan spent $9.4 million to decommission its 17,400 square foot facility, and is in the process of planning a rennovation and expansion to the facility. 

Stenhouse noted that the Center for Freedom and Prosperity is slated to be releasing a report on non-essential spending in the state later this month, which would look at the RI nuclear facility.  

"It's all about setting priorities. We can continue to over-spend and plod along with a failed economy, or we can be more prudent with how we spend taxpayer money and provide tax relief that will provide a sorely needed boost," said Stenhouse. "Lawmakers have an opportunity to both reduce the structural deficits we are projected to face and to grow our state's economy - it's time to move in this direction."

A preview report released by the Center in February "identified over a dozen major areas where budget savings can be achieved, including: state government operations and overtime compensation, community and legislative grants, corporate welfare, the HealthSourceRI exchange, the 38 Studios moral obligation bond, higher education 'capital' projects, the Convention Center Authority, historical tax credits, SNAP waste & fraud, the Governor's Workforce Boards, and arts & culture subsidies."  The full report is expected to identify dozens more.

Rickman offered his views the budget. "The fact that it's grown to $8 billion is unbelievable. This just adds to it. We would have to pay $100K for security measures a year if we defunded it, and there's possibly potential for federal funding for decommissioning."

"I disagree with [Stenhouse's] approach. Moderation in pursuit of happiness is no virtue. He wants to pay half to do nothing," said Rickman. "The state does no original research with it -- this isn't energy producing. They'll tell you there's a researcher, he's never authored original research from. They say there's a one in ten million chance there could be an incident that affects the Bay. The chance was minuscule that Fukushima could have happened, but it did."  

 

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Comments:

See, this is what happens when someone actually LOOKS at the damn budget.
I swear, this state is run by a bunch of blind mice.

Comment #1 by pearl fanch on 2014 03 19

So we are going to get rid of an asset and learning tool, that is not being used to it's potential, so we can give more money to social programs. Are we really going to save that much? What happened to bringing more technology R.I.?

Aren't there other things to cut in State Government that would save us money? I'm thinking middle management bureaucrats that sit and think up new ways to harass and squeeze more fees and taxes out of working citizens.

What did this Assistant Director do? How did he get the job? Who gave it to him? If there's no one there now, was the job necessary in the first place?

As far as an incident occurring, possible yes, there is risk in everything. There are of course those other reactors in the State at the Naval Base. Those ships don't run on unleaded.

As long as we're talking about URI Bay Campus, how about opening the parking area at the beach? It's easy just move the logs out of the way. How about repairing the boat ramp that has been down for 20 years? This is another underutilized facility because the State hasn't taken care of it.

Comment #2 by Wuggly Ump on 2014 03 19

Very well done article. You fairly represented both sides of the argument. THIS is the sort of article this website needs more of.

Comment #3 by john jacks on 2014 03 19

Please tell me the Boys Scouts and Central Falls HS students are not doing nuclear research. Sounds like they are just giving tours of the facility. Look kids! A nuclear reactor!
Close it.

Comment #4 by Dave Barry on 2014 03 19

Please tell me the Boys Scouts and Central Falls HS students are not doing nuclear research. Sounds like they are just giving tours of the facility. Look kids! A nuclear reactor!
Close it.

Comment #5 by Dave Barry on 2014 03 19

All I hear is:

***The costs of this research and education facility may jeopardize my pension***

Comment #6 by George Costanza on 2014 03 19

When I was a kid, they had these mobile vans which were equipped with x-ray equipment. They would offer free chest x-rays to people at fairs and festivals. Even as a kid I knew that something was not right. I would wonder what they were looking for and why they were at a carnival.

People who lived down South told me about devices they had in shoe stores. When they stepped on them they would have an x-ray taken and they could see all the bones in their feet.

When you look back, you realize that all this was to get people accustomed to “nuclear medicine,” and probably forget the horror of what was done to civilians in Japan with nuclear radiation.

This light water reactor, as far as I can see, is a propaganda tool for the nuclear power industry - paid for by RI taxpayers. I’m sure they don’t tell the kids on tours that there is no such thing as a safe level of radiation. Nuclear power is not something we should ever be comfortable with.

I just read a study on the health effects of people who have lived in proximity to the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant in California.

http://calcoastnews.com/2014/03/high-cancer-rates-near-diablo-canyon-nuclear-plant/

Comment #7 by Johnny cakes on 2014 03 19

We the money to p..s away on social programs to lure more illegals into the handout line. Left wing luddites and right wing cheapskates. If this facility were at PC or Brown the tailgate party types in the GA would be outraged, but it's URI, the only use for which according to legislature is to hire their nephews. Rickboy ought to carpet bag his way back to where ever he came from.

Comment #8 by G Godot on 2014 03 20

How much public money is going to keep Rickeyboy in parasols, and is Goodwin related to a certain Providence Senator?

Comment #9 by G Godot on 2014 03 20

Well, what the hay, Obama has turned NASA into a Global Warming and Ekonomik Predikshun Agency so I suppose this reactor - which is NOT on the "URI Campus" into an anti climate change propaganda machine. Go for it. Knock yourselves out, Luddites. I'm sure it makes everybody in Saunderstown cglow in the dark.

Comment #10 by G Godot on 2014 03 20

The solution is simple, it's an education tool, URI should take this over totally, get it off the taxpayers books.
I know it's tough for any pol to think but this is not nuclear science that has to be figured out here, it's economic survival.

Comment #11 by Gary Arnold on 2014 03 21

Rickman: "I see nothing in the budget that's more of a ripoff."

Really? How about the entire General Assembly budget?

Comment #12 by Max Diesel on 2014 03 21

Every dime they paid carpetbagger Rickey when he "served" (himself) was a ripoff.

Comment #13 by G Godot on 2014 03 22

If you were to look at how much taxpayer money goes into support of the University you might discover that the PC, BC, Burno and RWC lobby has been misrepresenting it for years. Last I saw it was 14 % of the operating budget. We spend more on coddling the neversweats in a month.

Comment #14 by G Godot on 2014 03 22




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