Myths, Mistakes & Mis-information

Photo: Columbia Generating Station

Myths, Mistakes and Mis-information


MYTH: Americans get most of their yearly radiation dose from nuclear power facilities.
FACT: Only .005 percent of the average American’s yearly radiation dose comes from nuclear power, which is about the same as eating one banana per year.

MYTH: A nuclear reactor can explode like a nuclear bomb.
FACT: It is impossible for a reactor to explode like a nuclear weapon; these weapons contain special materials and configurations not present in a nuclear reactor.

MYTH: Nuclear energy is bad for the environment.
FACT: Nuclear energy is safe – or safer – than any other form of energy available. No member of the public has ever been injured or killed in the 50-year history of commercial nuclear power in the U.S.
After more than a half-century of commercial nuclear energy production in the United States, including more than 3,500 reactor years of operation, there have been no radiation-related health effects linked to their operation.

MYTH: Nuclear waste cannot be safely transported.
FACT: Used fuel is safely shipped in specially-designed casks by truck, rail and cargo ship.

MYTH: There is no solution for huge amounts of nuclear waste being generated
Photo: Nuclear Fuel Storage UnitsFACT: All used nuclear fuel generated in every nuclear power facility in the past 50 years would fill a football field to a depth of less than 10 yards, and 96 percent of this “waste” can be recycled.

MYTH: Used nuclear fuel is deadly for 10,000 years.
FACT: Used nuclear fuel can be recycled to make new fuel. Less than 1 percent is radioactive for 10,000 years and is easily shielded.

MYTH: An American “Chernobyl” would kill thousands of people.
FACT: A Chernobyl-type accident could not have happened outside the Soviet Union because that type of reactor was never built or operated in the U.S.

MYTH: Nuclear energy can’t reduce our dependence on foreign oil
FACT: Nuclear-generated electricity powers electric trains, subways, cars and ships, and can expand to a mass-transit scale. It can provide power to islands like Hawaii, Guam and Puerto Rico that run their electrical grids on imported oil.

MYTH: Reprocessing used nuclear fuel will lead to proliferation of nuclear weapons.
FACT: Reprocessing of used nuclear fuel can be designed to prevent isolation of plutonium therefore posing no threat of proliferation.

MYTH: Radiation is man-made.
FACT: Radiation is the term used for energy in motion. There are many natural sources of radiation that we live with safely every day, such as cosmic radiation from the sun.


MISTAKE: Columbia Generating Station “is owned by a consortium of publicly owned utilities across Washington and Oregon.” The Willamette Week, Dec. 11, 2013 & The Inlander, Jan. 30, 2014
FACT: Columbia is owned and operated by Energy Northwest, a Washington state joint operating agency (a municipal corporation of the state of Washington).

MISTAKE: After the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan “three nuclear reactors at Fukushima melted down and another exploded.” The Willamette Week, Dec. 11, 2013 & The Inlander, Jan. 30, 2014
FACT: None of the Fukushima reactors exploded. Hydrogen trapped within three of the secondary containment buildings exploded, not the reactors themselves

MISTAKE: “In the past few years, at least four nuclear plants—two in California and one each in Wisconsin and Florida—have been closed for economic reasons.” The Willamette Week, Dec. 11, 2013 & The Inlander, Jan. 30, 2014
FACT: Only one was shut down for economic reasons. Dominion’s Kewaunee facility in Wisconsin – just half the size of Columbia and a for-profit facility – was unable to achieve the economy of scale required to remain a profitable resource in a deregulated market. (Duke Energy’s Crystal River 3 facility in Florida and Edison International’s San Onofre reactors in California were closed in response to return-to-service issues associated with plant-unique maintenance/repair challenges, not market conditions.)


Photo: Columbia Vapor Plume

MIS-INFORMATION: Columbia “was built largely below the surface of the sand and sagebrush on the Hanford reservation, a half-hour north of Richland, Wash….” The Willamette Week, Dec. 11, 2013 & The Inlander, Jan. 30, 2014
FACT: Columbia’s reactor building rises 225 feet above the desert floor, topped by an aircraft warning light – a collision avoidance measure – visible for miles at night (a basement houses emergency pumps protected by water-tight doors), and the station’s six cooling towers each rise 47 feet above the desert floor. Columbia is only an approximately 12-minute drive north of Richland.

MIS-INFORMATION: The “cheap cost of gas has helped undercut the Columbia Generating Station’s high-cost output.” The Willamette Week, Dec. 11, 2013 & The Inlander, Jan. 30, 2014
FACT: In January 2014, the Public Power Council, representing Northwest consumer-owned utilities, observed that the variable cost of Columbia operations in recent years was only slightly above spot market prices. The council also noted that a single unanticipated shift in the markets “can easily wipe out years of anticipated benefits” gained from combined-cycle natural gas generation.

The council reported that during the relatively short Western Energy Crisis of 2000-2001, the cost benefit of Columbia’s power “dwarf[ed] the modest benefits that would have been achieved” through replacement power.

“In 2001 alone the operation of Columbia Generating Station compared to the market saved Bonneville Power Administration ratepayers $1.4 billion.”

MIS-INFORMATION: “It’s as if the plant doesn’t want to be seen…” The Willamette Week, Dec. 11, 2013 & The Inlander, Jan. 30, 2014
FACT: On a clear day, thick clouds of pure water vapor rising from Columbia’s 47-foot tall cooling towers can be seen 75 miles away in Yakima.

MIS-INFORMATION: “Why is the Columbia Generating Station so expensive to run?” The Willamette Week, Dec. 11, 2013 & The Inlander, Jan. 30, 2014
FACT: The Public Power Council concluded in January 2014 that the continued operation of Columbia “is economically advisable” for the region.

MIS-INFORMATION: Columbia “has been such a money sinkhole.” The Willamette Week, Dec. 11, 2013 & The Inlander, Jan. 30, 2014
FACT: The Bonneville Power Administration credits Columbia-related initiatives (including a 2012 low-cost fuel transaction and license renewal through 2043) with having a negative rate case impact – i.e. Columbia has mitigated rate increases caused by other BPA cost sources.

MIS-INFORMATION: “Aging nuclear plants require lots of repairs, expensive parts and frequent shutdowns.” The Willamette Week, Dec. 11, 2013 & The Inlander, Jan. 30, 2014
FACT: Performance across the industry has risen over time. Columbia broke three consecutive annual generation records between 2012 and 2014.  During fiscal 2014, Columbia sent nearly 9.8 million megawatt hours to the Northwest power grid – enough clean and low-cost electricity to power Seattle.

MIS-INFORMATION: “The discipline of having to answer to investors and a customer base that can identify more easily where its power is coming from provides a level of accountability missing at the Columbia Generating Station.” The Willamette Week, Dec. 11, 2013 & The Inlander, Jan. 30, 2014
FACT: Columbia has more regulatory, governing and advisory oversight than any nuclear facility in the nation.

The station is owned and operated by Energy Northwest, a not-for-profit, state joint operating agency; governed by an 11-member executive board, a 27-member board of directors, and the 9-member Columbia Participants Review Board (representing 92 utilities in Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington).

MIS-INFORMATION: “In states with greater accountability over nuclear plants, some aging plants are being shut down.” The Willamette Week, Dec. 11, 2013 & The Inlander, Jan. 30, 2014


  • Columbia is the only nuclear plant owned by a state agency (three gubernatorial appointees sit on the policy making board that oversees Columbia Generating Station operations).
  • Age had no part in the 2013-2014 closing of plants in California, Wisconsin, Florida and Vermont (and only a third of the nation’s 100 reactors are younger than Columbia).
  • Additional state entities that regulate Columbia include the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Counsel, the Washington departments of ecology and health, the Washington State Auditors Office, and the Washington Department of Labor and Industries.