With last week's 30th anniversary celebration of the Wolf Creek nuclear power plant in Kansas comes a softening in opinions from some environmentalists toward such facilities due to more immediate concerns over climate change they say is related to the use of coal.
The Wolf Creek plant began commercial operation in 1985 and was a focal point in a debate over the safety and costs of nuclear energy following a major accident at a nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania, the Lawrence Journal-World reported.
As a result of concerns by the public, few plants have been built since Wolf Creek. The most recent was the Watts Bar 1 plant in Tennessee, which opened in 1996.
But Jeffrey Geuther, who teaches nuclear engineering at Kansas State University, said that's about to change soon with a second unit at Watts Bar. He also noted that four other plants are expected to be built in Georgia and South Carolina.
"I think for the environmental-minded folks, carbon dioxide emission is the big issue, and nuclear power is the quickest way to solve that problem," Geuther said.
Larry Erickson, president of the Kansas Natural Resource Council, a group that opposed building Wolf Creek in the 1980s, said attitudes toward nuclear power have shifted, but that there are still plenty of concerns about it.
"Finding good places for nuclear waste continues to be an issue because it is around for a very long time," he said. "I rank nuclear energy above coal because of all of the environmental issues related to coal."
The Wolf Creek plant is jointly owned by Westar Energy, Kansas City Power and Light and the Kansas Electric Power Cooperative.
It was initially licensed to operate for 40 years, but it has received a 20-year extension, meaning that it has at least another 30 years of operating life ahead of it.
Today, the plant's output is rated at 1,250 megawatts.