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    Does Sacramento have a nuclear power plant? See how many power plants charge the region


    July 28, 2022 - Hanh Truong, The Sacramento Bee

     

      The soft yellow light that trails the sidewalks at night. The television that runs the latest episode of your favorite show. The outlet that fills up your smartphone’s battery.

      All these simple pleasures and plain necessities come from power facilities near you.

      Interested in learning about the energy output of the area, Don Young, who’s been a resident of Roseville for about 12 years, asked Bee Curious, a community-driven series where our journalists answer reader’s curiosities about the region: Are there any nuclear power plants located near the Sacramento area?

      The short answer is no, not anymore in Sacramento. But more than a hundred power plants generated by solar, wind, water, organic material and natural gas are in the region, firing energy through the grid.

      The ‘dry ranch’ in Sacramento

      Nuclear energy once fueled power in Sacramento.

      Rancho Seco — meaning “dry ranch” — was a nuclear power plant in the southeast of Sacramento County. Built by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District and spanning 2,100 acres, the plant was constructed to meet increasing demands for power, according to the the district’s website.

      It began operation in 1974 at 14440 Twin Cities Road, Herald, and after a few hiccups, such as delays and outages, it “produced more energy than any other nuclear plant in the world.”

      But troubles dampened Rancho Seco’s spark.

      In 1985, an “overcooling” incident at the facility resulted in a 27-month outage, costing SMUD $400 million.

      And through 1989, the municipal district faced federal fines of $745,000 due to plant-related violations.

      During this time, the world was seeing nuclear disasters. . In 1979, equipment and operation failure at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania resulted in a partial meltdown. There were no injuries or deaths, according to U.S. Office of Nuclear Energy, but it was determined that about two million people that were near the area of the incident were exposed to small amounts of radiation. .

      A year after the overcooling event at Rancho Seco, the Chernobyl Power Complex in Ukraine exploded due to a flawed reactor and poorly trained employees. Two plant workers died the night of the explosion , 28 died in the following weeks from acute radiation syndrome and about 350,000 people were evacuated, according to the World Nuclear Association.

      There was outcry against Rancho Seco before it was open, but following these events, resistance grew, The Bee reported. On June 6, 1989, Sacramento held a public vote and became the first community in the world to shut down a nuclear power plant by ballot measure, according to Bee archives.

      Now decommissioned, which is the process of retiring a power plant from service and decontaminating the center to minimize radioactivity,, Rancho Seco remains, in part, a recreational area for swimming, hiking and camping, and a natural gas and solar power facility.

      The gas and solar sites are not open to the public.

      Is the Rancho Seco Recreational Area regularly tested for radioactivity?

      The district has an ongoing environmental monitoring program at Rancho Seco and the state does independent monitoring, too, Brad Gacke, manager of Rancho Seco Assets, said in an email response.

      “Measured levels meet the regulatory requirements established by the Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC),” Gacke said.

      How many power plants are in Sacramento?

      There are 111 power plants in the Greater Sacramento Region — including El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties.

      Each of the facilities can generate electricity from one megawatt to 551 megawatts, the California Energy Commission said in an email response. One megawatt can produce enough electricity for 750 homes at once, according to the California Independent System Operator, a nonprofit that oversees a majority of the state’s power grid. However, the number wavers depending on the seasonal demand and time of day.

      Currently, there are 50 power plants in Sacramento County, with two using biomass — the production of energy by burning organic material — 41 solar, five natural gas and two hydro.

      The two hydropower plants are the Folsom and Nimbus facilities, respectively located at Folsom Dam, 23 miles northeast of Sacramento and Nimbus Dam, seven miles downstream of Folsom Dam on the American River.

      Will more power plants be built in California?

      As energy demands grow, the energy commission told The Bee it anticipates the construction of more power plants in the state. The commission said itwill likely employ renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar and battery storage.

      “Senate Bill 100, the state’s landmark energy policy, requires that renewable and zero-carbon energy resources supply 100 percent of electric retail sales to customers by 2045,” the commission said.

      It added that the state has to increase its renewable energy efforts to meet its 2045 goals, according to a 2021 report by the energy commission, California Public Utilities Commission and California Air Resources Board.

      The commission said it is estimated that California may need to increase up to six gigawatts of new renewable and storage resources each year on average. Over the last decade, it said, the state has generated on average one gigawatt of utility solar and 300 megawatts of wind per year.

      What do you want to learn about Sacramento? Ask Bee Curious with the form below or email beecurious@sacbee.com.

      ©2022 The Sacramento Bee. Visit sacbee.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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