Just a couple of weeks ago Disney celebrated
the opening of a new 270 acre solar power facility on Walt Disney World property. The 50-megawatt facility is reported to generate
enough energy to meet the power needs for two of the four theme parks at Disney. It’s a fantastic development, but what if
Disney wanted to do more? What if they wanted go all out? What if they went with the nuclear option? Not the figurative, but the literal nuclear option. It’s recently resurfaced in the news over
the past month or two, and many outlets are once again talking about Disney’s ability
to build a nuclear power plant on property if they wanted to. This is true… mostly. As with all matters this complex, it’s more
than a simple yes or no, and this one in particular dates back to the 1960’s. When Walt Disney was still alive and working
on his Florida Project, Disney World was meant to be more than a resort. While there were plans for an east coast Disneyland,
The Magic Kingdom, the real star of the show was going to be EPCOT. I have video that talks about EPCOT more in
depth, but the short of it is that EPCOT was going to be an actual city of the future that
utilized cutting edge design and technology. Walt wanted it to stand as an example of what
cities across the country and around the world could eventually achieve with the right planning. However to do that, Disney felt that they
needed to be freed up from the restrictions of government regulation. So in 1967 Disney worked with the state of
Florida to create the Reedy Creek Improvement District which, on a local level, allowed
Disney to effectively govern themselves when it came to building and running Disney World. Within the legislation that created Reedy
Creek was section nine: powers of the district. Under Public Utilities it granted Reedy Creek
the power to own, acquire, construct and operate everything from electric power plants to gas
lines to telephone lines and “plants and facilities for the generation and transmission
of power through nuclear fission and other new and experimental sources of power and
energy.” It was exciting for Disney to have the option,
but it was that last bit about new and experimental sources of power that really captured the
spirit of what EPCOT was going to become. However Walt unfortunately passed away just
six months prior, and as the world would eventually learn, the original concept for EPCOT would
not come to fruition without his leadership. So with the text of the legislation pretty
clear, why did I say that it was mostly true? Well the Reedy Creek Improvement District
was formed in 1967, however seven years after that Congress passed the Energy Reorganization
Act of 1974 which, in turn, created the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. This newly formed agency was given the federal
power of overseeing multiple aspects of nuclear energy, including the approving and distribution
of nuclear reactor licenses. As it turns out, nuclear reactors are pretty
important parts of nuclear power plants. So while Disney still maintained the power
to build and operate a nuclear power facility, at the same time they kind of didn’t. It’s not as if Disney could just decide
one day that they wanted to get into nuclear power and then just do it. It would still require the lengthy and difficult
and most importantly, expensive process of getting the federal approvals needed to make
it actually happen. The powers granted to Reedy Creek from the
1960’s might make it easier to get through some of the parts of the process needed to
build a plant, but ultimately it’s not a complete freedom. But what if they built one anyway? With the news of their new solar facility
with Origis Energy providing enough power for two theme parks, I wondered what a nuclear
facility would mean for Disney’s power needs. Disney World does operate and feel like its own small city most of the time, but the keyword there is small. So for an example to use, I turned to the
US Energy Information Administration who listed the RE Ginna Nuclear Power Plant in upstate
New York as the smallest facility in the country. According to the facility, as of a few years
ago, they output around 5 million MWh of energy a year. As for Disney, I have a video that breaks it down in detail,
but as a whole, Disney and the Reedy Creek Improvement District uses around 1.2 million
MWh of energy every year. So even the smallest facility would generate
over four times as much power than Disney would actually need. Realistically speaking, the odds of Disney
ever trying to build a nuclear power plant are pretty low. It’s an expensive endeavor and it’s one
that is not without its own criticisms and controversies in the United States today. More importantly, it’s just… not really
necessary for the amount of power Disney consumes, which is why they’re turning their efforts
to smaller and more widely accepted options like the Origis Solar facility. Reedy Creek’s nuclear powers, for as long
as they’re around, will continue to make for an interesting headline. It’s unexpected and it’s strange and it’s
a look back at a past. A past that anticipated a Disney World that
was going to be something far more than a vacation destination, a past that captured
Walt Disney’s own dedication to science, and a past that was looking towards the future.