Senators Should Vote No on HF561
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· The Legislature is picking winners and losers. The amendment that passed the Commerce Committee does nothing to protect ratepayers who will be forced to pay for the new plant through their monthly bills while MidAmerican Energy stands to profit from the plant. In other words, this bill socializes the investment and privatizes the profit. This is not how the free market is supposed to operate.
Pre-emptive bailout. Ratepayers would be forced to pay all costs including licensing, construction and production and any litigation costs or expenses incurred even if the project is canceled. Private investors are skittish about putting their money into nuclear power. This bill takes all the risk away from private investors and shareholders.
How big will it really be? MidAmerican Energy President Bill Fehrman told legislators in 2011 that the proposed plant would be 1,000 to 1,600 megawatts.1 Sen. Matt McCoy told fellow Senators during a Commerce Committee meeting on March 13, 2012, that the proposed plant would be 600 megawatts from small module reactors (SMRs). Nothing in the bill restricts MidAmerican Energy to using SMRs.
Simply "fixing" ratemaking principles is not enough to fix HF561. The bill before the Senate does not restrict MidAmerican Energy to a particular technology. If the energy company chooses to build a conventional nuclear power plant, it has that option available. It seems very unlikely that the Iowa Utilities Board would ever require MidAmerican Energy to stop construction.
The baseload argument is a myth. MidAmerican Energy maintains it needs the nuclear power plant to provide "baseload" to its customers. The reality is MidAmerican does not need a central power plant for baseload. Renewable sources can generate the energy and the capacity needed. The company will most likely sell its excess electricity to other states leaving Iowans with all of the safety and financial risk. Find more information about baseload.
The Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant north of Omaha has a Current Electric Rating of 478.6 MW and provides electricity to approximately 754,000 people in southeast Nebraska, including Omaha.2 Fort Calhoun has not been producing power for nearly a year. While shut down for refueling, the Missouri River flooded, then a fire knocked out the used fuel cooling system. According to the Associated Press, “…the [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] said [in its March 12, 2012 report] the fire is considered a major concern because it could have happened any time and because workers didn’t fully investigate an unusual smell in the area three days earlier, which could have led them to discover the problem and prevent the fire.”3 The plant hasn’t operated for almost a year and the lights haven’t gone off in Omaha.
Iowans don't support nuclear power. The issue isn't only about the thousands of Iowans who have already contacted their legislators through phone calls and emails. Iowans simply don't want it. Poll IOWA's survey of 600 Iowans in April 2011 found that 74 percent opposed paying higher electric rates for a new nuclear power plant while 17 percent favored it. In addition, Poll IOWA respondents indicated 70 percent preferred investing in renewable sources while 22 percent preferred nuclear reactors.4 A May 2011 poll of 400 likely voters 50 and older indicated that 77 percent opposed this measure with more than half (52%) strongly opposed and 20 percent somewhat opposed to the advanced ratemaking principles forwarded in HF561.5
Americans in general don't want it. According to a Civil Society Institute poll in March 2012, nearly 60 percent of respondents indicated they are less supportive of nuclear power expansion in the U.S. now than they were before the Fukushima disaster. Meanwhile, 77 percent of respondents indicated they are now more supportive than they were a year ago "to using clean renewable energy resources - such as wind and solar - and increased energy efficiency as an alternative to more nuclear power in the United States."6 In another national survey, The Harris Poll asked 2,056 adults if the benefits outweighed the risks from a list of energy generation sources. The Midwest respondents indicated that 74 percent thought solar energy risks outweighed the benefits; 76 percent indicated wind risks outweighed the benefits but only 40 percent thought nuclear risks outweighed the benefits.7
The future of renewable sources in jeopardy. The addition of a new nuclear power plant would take all discussion about additional renewable energy sources off the table for 60-65 years. As technology improves and the cost decreases for wind and solar, small-scale renewable power would not be realized in Iowa for several generations.
Bloated jobs estimates. According to a University of Massachusetts report, more jobs are created per $1 million investment in renewable energy sources than are created with nuclear power.8 The report indicates that solar and wind eclipse nuclear in the number of jobs created.
Industry Direct Indirect Induced Total Jobs Solar 5.4 4.40 3.92 13.72 Biomass 7.4 5.00 4.96 17.36 Wind 4.6 4.90 3.8 13.3 Nuclear 1.2 1.80 1.2 4.2
A million years of waste. After decades of trying to find an appropriate strategy for the highly radioactive spent fuel, a site has yet to be found. The U.S. Department of Energy sought a site that could accommodate storage for 10,000 years. However, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals ruled that the Energy department needed to find a depository that could store spent fuel for up to 1,000,000 years.9 Although the Energy department had considered Yucca Mountain in Nevada as well as sites in Texas and Washington state, the department has now abandoned those possibilities. A solution has not yet been found and there is no recognition that an appropriate site will ever be found. However, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is considering allowing nuclear power plants to store spent fuel on site for 300 years until a permanent depository can be found.
Isn't it easier and quicker to deal with spent fuel by not building any additional plants?
Water contamination. Tritium, a naturally occurring radioactive form of hydrogen, is produced in the atmosphere when cosmic rays collide with air molecules and is found in very small or trace amounts in groundwater throughout the world. Tritium is also a byproduct of the production of electricity by nuclear power plants. Most of the tritium produced in nuclear power plants stems from a chemical, known as boron, absorbing neutrons from the plant’s chain reaction. Tritium can bond with oxygen to form water. When this happens, the resulting water (called “tritiated water”) is radioactive. Tritiated water (not to be confused with heavy water) is chemically identical to normal water and the tritium cannot be filtered out of the water. Tritium is almost always found as tritiated water and primarily enters the body when people eat or drink food or water containing tritium or absorb it through their skin. People can also inhale tritium as a gas in the air.10 According to the Nuclear Regulation Commission, a body exposed to tritium absorbs it evenly in the soft tissues and the body excretes half of the tritium within 10 days.
There are other forms of water pollution attributed to nuclear power and the plants that produce it.
Heavy metals and salts build up in the plants' water systems. These pollutants can contaminate lakes and rivers and can be particularly harmful to water quality, aquatic life and humans who drink the water.
According to the Environmental Protection Commission, runoff water that comes in contact with the reactors can contaminate groundwater.
Nuclear power plants are constructed on large amounts of land that must be cleared. Such construction could potentially contaminate the land making it uninhabitable to plants and wildlife.
Finally, the radioactive waste can be a potential contaminant to the water. Currently, waste is stored at the site in steel containers. However, if any of these steel containers spring a leak -- as happened at the Daiichi plant in Fukushima -- radioactive chemicals can pollute nearby waters.11
MidAmerican Energy has not identified where it plans to site the plant nor what kind of cooling technology it plans to use. Any thermal discharge into a water body will effect the plants and animals that rely on that water source for survival.
This image shows the thermal discharge from a nuclear plant into a lake. The warm water (red) discharged from the circulating water system enters the lake via a long canal and then cools as it flows counterclockwise around the lake, guided by a long weir wall. The cooled water (dark blue) is drawn back into the plant’s intake structure for another cycle.12
This drawing shows the discharge piping routed along the river bottom to diffuse the warm water
discharged from the circulating water system into the river. The diffuser pipes extend out into the river along its bed for optimal mixing between the warm discharge water and the cooler river water.13
First of a Kind Technology? Each 45 MWe small module reactor produced would use pressurized water fuel rods in 17x17 bundles that are one-half the length of conventional rods. Each module would be in a separate containment, but would operate in the same large pool of water. The modules would be refueled every two years.14 NuScale, the likely provider of the nuclear reactors MidAmerican Energy proposes, began its pre-application review meetings with the NRC in July 2008. The formal application is expected to be submitted in 2012.15 The Design Certification proceeding was expected to take at least 24 to 36 months after the application was submitted. NuScale’s design may not be certified for several years.
Made in China? In order to reduce costs, it is likely that manufacturing will move to countries with cheaper labor forces, such as China, where severe quality problems have arisen in many products from drywall to infant formula to rabies vaccine.16 Iowans deserve to know before the plant is built what would happen if a defect in the small module reactors was discovered and how it would be mitigated
Remembering past disasters. The Commerce Committee approved the amendment and the bill two days after the first anniversary of the Fukushima tsunami/earthquake/nuclear power plant disaster. The Fukushima disaster resulted in 7 million Japanese acres contaminated with radioactive cesium. In Iowa, that equates to a $7 billion loss in corn and $47 billion in land lost. A nuclear accident in Iowa would devastate our economy. Japan has permanently closed all of its 80 nuclear power plants and approximately 80,000 Japanese people were permanently evacuated from their homes. See "Images Released of the Tsunami Striking Fukushima."
Iowans are entitled to know how they would be protected -- and evacuated -- from a nuclear accident at MidAmerican Energy's proposed site in the event of an E4 or E5 tornado, flooding as experienced numerous times in the past few years by the Missouri, Des Moines, Cedar, Iowa and Mississippi Rivers, an earthquake from the New Madrid Fault, a blizzard-like snow storm or any other natural disaster.
Iowans deserve better than this.
1 Perry Beeman, "MidAmerican president: Iowans face 10 percent rate increase for nuclear plant,” The Des Moines Register, March 17, 2011. http://blogs.desmoinesregister.com/dmr/index.php/2011/03/17/117527/
2 Nancy Gaarder, “OPPD flood costs: $44.5 million,” Omaha World Herald, August 11, 2011.
3 Josh Funk, "Feds: Nebraska nuke plant fire was serious threat," Associated Press, March 13, 2012. http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5iK9i9kAul9-Cj5oY9GFINpl_3K8g?docId=9ca86489bc424644ba7ad2dc2473992e
4 Poll IOWA, "Iowans and the proposed nuclear energy bill," http://polliowa.org/?q=press-release/iowans-and-proposed-nuclear-energy-bill
5 Rod Boshart, "Poll: Older Iowans oppose power plant funding shift," Sioux City Journal, May 31, 2011. http://siouxcityjournal.com/news/local/state-and-regional/article_20d4a130-435e-54f8-ab92-5d7ef175495d.html
6 Civil Society Institute, "SURVEY: AMERICANS NOT WARMING UP TO NUCLEAR POWER ONE YEAR AFTER FUKUSHIMA: Contrary to Industry Predictions, Reactor Disaster Seen As Having a "Lasting Chill" on Perceptions; It's Not All Fukushima: 3 in 5 Americans Less Supportive Due to Woes of U.S. Nuclear Industry in Last Year.'" http://www.civilsocietyinstitute.org/media/030712release.cfm
7 PRNewswire, "One Year Post Fukushima, Americans Are Divided About the Risks of Nuclear Power," March 14, 2012. http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/one-year-post-fukushima-americans-are-divided-about-the-risks-of-nuclear-power-142618056.html
8 Heidi Garrett-Peltier and Robert Pollin, "How Infrastructure Investments Support the U.S. Economy: Employment, Productivity and Growth," University of Massachusetts Political Economy and Research Institute, January 2009.
9 Nuclear Energy Institute vs. EPA, 373F.3D1251(D.C.Cir.2004).
10 Nuclear Regulatory Commission, “Backgrounder on Tritium, Radiation Protection Limits, and Drinking Water Standards.” http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/tritium-radiation-fs.html
11 e-How Health, “Ways That Nuclear Plants Affect Water Pollution.” http://www.ehow.com/info_8488811_ways-plants-affect-water-pollution.html
12 David Lochbaum, “Got Water?,” Union of Concerned Scientists, October 2007. http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/nuclear_power/20071204-ucs-brief-got-water.pdf
14 Arjun Makhijani and Michele Boyd, "Small Modular Reactors: No Solution for the Cost, Safety, and Waste Problems of Nuclear Power," Institute for Energy and Environmental Research and Physicians for Social Responsibility, September 2010. http://www.psr.org/nuclear-bailout/resources/small-modular-reactors-no.pdf
15 Nuclear Regulatory Commission. http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/advanced/nuscale.html
16 Op cit. Makhijani and Boyd.