Lawmakers are considering offering more incentives to expand nuclear energy in Iowa. So far, 57 representatives have signed on to a proposal to allow nuclear energy projects to apply for millions of dollars in state grant money. The bill already has passed a House subcommittee and heads to the full House Commerce Committee for consideration.
“This is, in my opinion, the right direction for the Legislature to send the signal that yes, we are interested in you guys ... making this investment, growing the work force,” said Rep. Kraig Paulsen, a Hiawatha Republican who supports the proposal.
State officials have said Iowa’s energy supply is one key reason the state landed the $600 million Google data center under construction in Council Bluffs. The state also is hoping to attract a Microsoft data center that some lawmakers have speculated could generate a $750 million investment.
Supporters of nuclear energy said such projects may not come to Iowa in the future if the state doesn’t expand its energy sources.
“One of the main attractions of Iowa is affordable and abundant power,” said Timothy Coonan, a lobbyist for the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives. “If we’re not thinking ahead and planning, looking sometimes 25 to 50 years in the future for energy needs, we hit a ceiling.” The Duane Arnold Energy Center in Palo is Iowa’s only nuclear plant. It produces 592 million watts of electricity a year, enough to power 600,000 homes, according to the Web site of FPL Energy, the Florida company that owns the plant.
Lawmakers said there are no immediate plans to build another nuclear power plant. However, they said Iowa should send a signal to businesses that the state is willing to expand nuclear power production.
Supporters of the bill say nuclear energy is clean and safe, despite its reputation as a societal hazard.
Some organizations disagree. A Cedar Rapids group, the “Strong Like a Willow” project, notes the ill effects of the 1986 nuclear reactor explosion of Chernobyl.
The group’s director, Hope Burwell, has said advocates of nuclear power fail to adequately consider possible consequences of a nuclear disaster, such as birth defects, heart conditions and other health issues.
Iowa's only nuclear power plant in the Duane Arnold plant in Palo came on line in 1975 and is up for relicensing on February 21, 2014 . It, like other nuclear plants, is coping with delays in opening the national waste depository at Yucca Mountain. In 2001, the Des Moines Register reported that the spent fuel pool would be full within 2 years. An interim plan was developed to accommodate future waste as the delays at Yucca Mountain continue.
As long as disposal of nuclear materials is a significant issue and the costs of clean-up so expensive ($53.8 million predicted if there were a major accident at this plant), it seems like a poor way to generate power. In addition, as a state that is so important to food production, can we really afford to risk a Chernobyl or Three Mile Island like disaster?