Sharna Johnson, Freedom New Mexico
The secretary of the Air Force says Cannon Air Force Base could be the future home of a nuclear reactor, but other Air Force officials cautioned Friday that it’s too early to speculate on location, even if a reactor is built.
Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne was quoted in a copyrighted story by InsideDefense saying, “The thoughts are, right now, we’re talking about Cannon out in New Mexico and Mountain Home up in Idaho.”
InsideDefense is an Internet news service covering defense and the aerospace industry.
The story also reported Air Force officials plan to sign a letter of intent with members of the nuclear power industry by November in the hopes of ensuring “at least one small, next-generation nuclear-power plant on an Air Force base in the coming decades,” will be maintained by the next presidential administration.
Air Force spokeswoman Vicki Stein downplayed Wynne’s statement Friday. There are a multitude of factors that would go into selecting a base, chiefly the compatibility of an installation’s mission to housing a reactor, she said.
“We really don’t have any specific bases under consideration at this time,” she said.
“It’s going to be a very long process. They haven’t even determined if the Air Force will even get involved in the nuclear (energy industry)… We still have a lot of work to do getting information on nuclear energy, especially in formats the Air Force could use it in, so it’s going to be a long road.”
Stein said it is far too early to discuss specific technology, construction details or economic impact to communities and bases.
Air Force officials said Wednesday they are considering several alternate energy options. Solar, wind and nuclear power are among the alternatives they are pursuing.
The Air Force said U.S. Sens. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and Pete Domenici, R-N.M., suggested nuclear energy to the military branch about a year ago and they began exploring the possibility.
Chris Gallegos, spokesman for Domenici, said the senator has long admired Navy nuclear programs and wanted other branches to explore the possibility for themselves.
“The senator is pleased to see they’re considering the process,” Gallegos said.
Input from the nuclear industry was solicited in January and Air Force officials said they brought the ideas they received to a forum last week.
Topics that came up during the energy forum on Monday in Arlington, Va., were facility energy management and alternative fuels, including the possibility of hosting nuclear power plants at Air Force installations.
“We’ve found that we share many of the same challenges (as major industry businesses do) in maintaining our operational or primary mission edge while balancing investment in infrastructure,” Bill Anderson, told the Air Force Print News.
Anderson is the assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and logistics, as well as the Air Force’s senior energy executive.
In an October letter to the Air Force, Domenici commended efforts to examine nuclear power and asked the Air Force to consider using small modular reactors on Air Force bases and, furthermore, to consider New Mexico bases as possible sites.
Clovis businessman and long-time Cannon advocate Randy Harris said he has known for about a month Cannon was one of many bases being considered for an alternative energy source.
Harris said he is excited to learn the Air Force may have narrowed the field with Cannon still in the running.
“What I’m aware of is that they are looking at all kinds of energy for military installations and installations all around New Mexico and the country,” Harris said. “I (knew) that we were being looked at (and) that’s great news.”
The nuclear reactor would be the first of its kind for the Air Force and power from the reactor could be shared with communities neighboring the Air Force installation. “To have that power available to the surrounding area, it’s pretty exciting,” Harris said.
“I think our community would just be taken care of for a long, long time to come. I think it’s wonderful. I hope it gets done.”
What is a nuclear reactor?
A nuclear reactor is a device in which nuclear chain reactions are initiated, controlled, and sustained at a steady rate, as opposed to a nuclear bomb, in which the chain reaction occurs in a fraction of a second and is uncontrolled.
The most significant use of nuclear reactors is as an energy source for the generation of electrical power and for the power in some ships.
How does it work?
A nuclear reactor produces and controls the release of energy from splitting the atoms of certain elements. In a nuclear power reactor, the energy released is used as heat to make steam to generate electricity.
The principles for using nuclear power to produce electricity are the same for most types of reactors. The energy released from continuous fission of the atoms of the fuel is harnessed as heat in either a gas or water, and is used to produce steam. The steam is used to drive the turbines, which produce electricity
Is it dangerous?
Nuclear power facilities present a potential hazard in radiation. A major health hazard would result if a significant fraction of the core inventory of a power reactor were released to the atmosphere. Because such a release of radioactivity is unacceptable, steps are taken to assure it doesn’t happen. These include use of engineered safety systems, various construction and design codes, regulations on reactor operation, and periodic maintenance and inspection.
Critics of nuclear power consider the radioactive wastes generated by the nuclear industry to be too great a burden for society. They argue since the high-level wastes contain highly toxic materials with long half-lives, the safekeeping of these materials must be assured for time periods longer than social orders have existed in the past. Nuclear supporters argue that the time required for isolation is much shorter, since only 500 to 1,000 years is needed before the hazard posed by nuclear waste falls below that posed by common natural ore deposits in the environment.