Purdue, Duke Energy team up to study nuclear power option for schoolMay 13, 2022
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Indiana has always been a coal state, but a new partnership may help determine if nuclear is the future.
Purdue University and Duke Energy recently announced they are teaming up to explore using nuclear power to meet the university’s long-term energy needs — a move they say is unprecedented for a college campus.
The university has been searching for ways to minimize its use of fossil fuels, and Purdue President Mitch Daniels said no other option holds as much potential to provide reliable power with zero emissions.
“We’ve been working on a master plan to decarbonize the campus and are making a lot of headway,” Daniels told IndyStar. “But to do it in a really big way, we want to make sure we’ve thought of the biggest and boldest steps we might take.”
This announcement, however, is about much more. For some, this news takes Indiana to the cutting edge, garnering serious excitement. But for others, it’s an unproven technology with unknown costs, raising a slew of concerns.
Duke and Purdue’s alliance comes less than two months after the state legislature passed a bill paving the way in Indiana for a new approach to generating nuclear power called small modular reactors — the exact technology the university and utility plan to study.
That law, which Gov. Eric Holcomb signed on March 18, creates a framework and sets guidelines for state regulators to consider such a project if a utility wants to build one.
Proponents contend SMRs are a logical addition to the state’s all-of-the-above energy approach that can help supplement renewables. Critics, however, said the law doesn’t just open the door to nuclear power, but rather rolls out the red carpet and lets utilities pass the costs — and the risks — onto customers.
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For Kerwin Olson, executive director of consumer advocacy group Citizens Action Coalition, this feels all too similar to Edwardsport, another Duke plant championed by then-Governor Daniels.
Edwardsport was initially touted as being a cutting edge technology. But ultimately, the project ran billions of dollars over budget, months behind schedule and has underperformed since it opened nearly a decade ago.
“It’s absolutely deja vu all over again,” Olson said. “I sort of see this announcement in the same light. There is nothing imminent here, nothing happening tomorrow, but this is part of a very effective public marketing campaign in concert with very large and known utilities and public figures and universities to paint this as a good thing.”
As Olson said, construction on an Indiana nuclear plant isn’t happening anytime soon, if at all. But the process to answer that question is underway.