Concerns from Japan are not slowing down those who want to see a 2nd nuclear power plant in MO
3:57 PM, Mar 20, 2011
4:11 PM, Mar 20, 2011
JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri (AP) - Backers of legislation designed to help build a second Missouri
nuclear power plant are pushing forward with the idea, despite an
emergency in Japan set off by an earthquake, tsunami and
Yet, fears of meltdowns, radiation and the long term
ramifications of the Japanese situation have spread across the
Pacific. It also has tinged Missouri's debate about whether to let
power companies charge their customers for taking a preliminary
step toward potentially building a second reactor here.
"Obviously it's bad timing," said Republican Sen. Mike Kehoe,
who has sponsored one of the proposals and whose central Missouri
district could include a second nuclear plant. "You couldn't ask
for any worse timing probably ... but I think it also gives you an
opportunity to make sure you're highlighting the safety features
any nuclear plant has designed into it."
Missouri utilities are asking the Legislature to allow them to
charge customers for the cost of an early site permit from the U.S.
Nuclear Regulatory Commission. A state law approved by voters in
1976 currently bars utilities from charging customers for the costs
of a new power plant before it starts producing electricity. Last
fall, a group of utilities announced that they were considering
seeking an early site permit for a second nuclear plant. The permit
would not specify a plant design or authorize construction, and the
group has said it has not decided whether to build a second
In Japan, a powerful earthquake and resulting tsunami cut off
regular electricity to the oldest unit at the Fukushima Dai-ichi
nuclear complex on country's eastern coast. That situation has
added a new wrinkle to an already complicated debate in the
Missouri Capitol about nuclear power.
Thus far, most of the discussion in Missouri has focused on
consumer issues and whether it is fair to require customers to
start paying for a power plant that is not producing electricity.
But fears of a possible meltdown in Japan have given some critics a
vivid example of the possible risks of nuclear energy.
"This catastrophe demonstrates the dangerous and unreliable
nature of nuclear power in the event of a significant natural
disaster," said Kat Logan Smith, the executive director of the
Missouri Coalition for the Environment. "Now is certainly not the
time to pursue the 'nuclear option' for Missouri's base load energy
With nuclear concerns heightened, Ameren Missouri -- which
operates the state's only nuclear power plant in Callaway County
and is part of the utility coalition considering a second plant --
hosted a nighttime briefing for lawmakers last week about what was
happening in Japan. The discussion also highlighted various safety
features of Missouri's existing plant. Officials said the nuclear
plant about 25 miles northeast of the state Capitol operates safely
but that lessons from Japan would be learned and applied.
The nuclear plant legislation already faces an uncertain future.
The proposal is supported by Gov. Jay Nixon and numerous lawmakers
and has been endorsed by a House committee. But House leaders say
they plan to wait for Senate action before moving forward with
their version. A Senate committee considered a couple proposals for
several hours earlier this month.
Missourians for a Balanced Energy Future, a group that supports
the nuclear plant legislation, said the early site permit would
include a seismology review and disaster preparations. The group
said state lawmakers need to act to keep the expansion of nuclear
power as an option.
Since the Japanese disaster, President Barack Obama has renewed
support for nuclear energy, which accounts for about 20 percent of
the country's electricity.
However, others across the globe have been less enthusiastic
while watching Japanese officials try to cool their reactors. In
Europe, Switzerland has frozen plans to build new nuclear plants,
and Germany has said it is suspending for three months a decision
to extend the life of its plants.
This past week, Iowa lawmakers considered legislation that would
allow a utility to recover costs for building a nuclear power plant
while critics raised questions about safety. And in Minnesota, an
attempt to lift that state's ban on new nuclear plants stalled,
though Republican supporters blamed the Democratic governor and not
the situation in Japan.
Some of the stiffest criticism to Missouri's legislation has
come from an organization that represents consumers and industrial
energy users. The group, called the Fair Energy Rate Action Fund,
has called for limits on how much customers would be charged, a
rebate provision if the plant never is built and a change in
funding for the state office that represents customers before state
regulators. Even with the problems in Japan that focus is unlikely
Supporters of the Missouri legislation said a tragedy in Japan
does not change the need to increase power production in Missouri
and to develop alternatives to fossil fuels.
"If we look at what we must do to take care of Missouri's energy
future, our security and our economic future, we need to move
ahead," said Republican Rep. Jeannie Riddle, who also has filed
nuclear plant legislation. "The Challenger blew up in space travel.
That killed people and we continued to move ahead with our space
research. The Titanic sank. Many people were killed, but we still
traveled the ocean."