By the slimmest of margins a senate committee has approved a bill that would allow MidAmerican to seek regulators’ approval for construction of an underground nuclear power plant in Iowa. Senator Matt McCoy, a Democrat from Des Moines, said the legislation will help MidAmerican go to Wall Street and line up investors in the project.
“We believe this will generate jobs in the state of Iowa, tha tthis will diversify Iowa’s energy portfolio,” McCoy said. “This will serve as a mechanism for providing energy for the next generation and generations after that.”
Senator Joe Bolkcom, a Democrat from Iowa City, said underground nuclear power stations haven’t been built anywhere before and it’s “risky stuff.”
“This is a tough issue, an important issue,” Bolkcom said. “I think it’s a thousand year decision. If we pursue this, somebody many, many years from now is going to have one big brownfield to deal with.”
The bill passed the Senate Commerce Committee on an 8-7 vote at about nine o’clock this evening and is now eligible for debate in the full senate. A different version of the bill passed the Iowa House last year. McCoy said says wind power, which is an intermittant source of electricity, can’t meet rising consumer demand and federal clean air regulations may lead to the closure of older coal-fired plants.
“Nuclear generation is the only proven available technology that can deliver large-scale, carbon-free baseload generation,” McCoy said. “Nuclear generation has a proven record of being a safe and secure source of electricity in the United States.”
Senator Daryl Beall, a Democrat from Fort Dodge, disagreed.
“There have been 99 accidents at nuclear plants in the United States,” Beall said, “major accidents, so it’s not as danger-free as you might believe.”
McCoy countered that the coal industry doesn’t have a stellar safety record either, with “tens of thousands” of deaths in coal mines. Plus, McCoy said natural-gas-powered plants are expensive to run because of the volatile price of natural gas.
“If the industry in Iowa moves to natural-gas-fired plants, they ship great amounts of taxpayer, rate-payer money outside of Iowa and employ very few Iowans to operate them,” McCoy said. “If nuclear energy is developed as the next baseload fuel, the opposite will occur.”
According to McCoy, over a thousand people would be hired to construct a new underground nuclear generator and once it opens about 500 people would have jobs at the facility. Senator Beall isn’t sold.
“The spectre of Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima I don’t want hanging over Iowa,” Beall said. “What do we do with the radioactive waste? I’ve still not seen a plan.”
Governor Branstad supports the idea of laying plans for a new nuclear power plant in Iowa. There is currently a 40-year-old nuclear power plant near Palo in eastern Iowa, plus a nuclear generating station is located just across the Iowa/Illinois border near the Quad Cities. There are two nuclear power plants in Nebraska located near the Missouri River.
AUDIO of the final 24 minutes of the Senate Commerce Committee debate this evening.