The Iowa House has endorsed a bill that may eventually allow MidAmerican Energy to collect fees from its customers to cover about half the costs of building a new nuclear power facility in Iowa. 

Representative Chuck Soderberg, a Republican from Le Mars, is a vice president for Northwest Iowa Power Cooperative. “This is a huge step for Iowa and it’s a huge step if we believe that we want to continue to grow this state,” Soderberg said to open Tuesday’s House debate of the measure. 

The bill passed on a 68-30 vote, after more than five hours of debate. Critics like Representative Mary Mascher of Iowa City suggested nuclear energy is “damaging to the environment” and a “threat” to humans.  

“For us to act on this today is really and truly not in the best interest of the state,” Mascher said. “It’s not in the best interest of Iowans.”

Soderberg had a counter argument.

“The easy thing to do today would be do nothing, not adopt energy policy, but I don’t think we’re here to do the easy thing. We’re here to do the right thing,” Soderberg said. “…If Iowans, if businesses are expected to stay here, we need to provide them electric power.”

Others, like Representative Janet Petersen of Des Moines, noted the irony that House debate of the legislation was being held on the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the Ukraine.  

“Representative Soderberg is telling us the easy thing to do is to do nothing,” Petersen said. “I’m saying the important thing to do is to not rush.”

Iowa already has one nuclear power plant, about nine miles northwest of Cedar Rapids. If this bill becomes law and MidAmerican is able to secure additional private investment in a new, underground nuclear power facility, it would require federal approval as well.  MidAmerican executives say 2020 would likely be the earliest such a plant would start operating. Critics say by raising electric rates, MidAmerican would be guaranteed profits while customers could see their electric bills go up as much as 10 percent.

Representative Bruce Hunter, a Democrat from Des Moines, said his constituents think nuclear energy is too “risky.

“Especially in light of what happened in Japan recently,” Hunter said.

Soderberg dismissed those concerns, saying the Japanese plant was 40 years old and the facility MidAmerican envisions would use technology similar to nuclear-powered submarines.

“This is an opportunity, also, to create hundreds of new jobs in the state Iowa,” Soderberg said. “It’s going to create over 500 new construction jobs. Operating a facility, anywhere from 300-800 new jobs in the state of Iowa, good-paying jobs, average wage $75,000.” 

The bill now goes to the Senate, where its future is uncertain.