Sunday, March 15, 2009

Update on nuclear energy in the states for 03/15/09

Building bypasses to blind spots one legislator at a time

Time-MachineAnyone waiting for the federal government to come up with a rational policy that quickly swaps out greenhouse gas producing coal-fired power plants for nuclear energy had better have a time machine handy.

The reasons are two fold. First. as long as Sen. Harry Reid rules in Nevada and, second, as long as Al Gore has a speaking voice, it isn’t going to happen. Reid shut the door on Yucca Mountain and as Majority Leader in the U.S. Senate, is a key to so much of the Obama administration’s legislative agenda that he cannot be stopped on this issue.

The paradox of Al Gore’s position is that while he has a Nobel Prize winning grasp of the problem of global warming, he seems to be unclear on the concept when it comes to solutions. It is frustrating that Gore doesn’t get it. His opposition alone could delay some new nuclear power plants by a generation. Take for instance the fact that a former key Gore aide is now Chief of Staff to Energy Secretary Steven Chu. Want evidence of influence? There it is.

The result is that the Obama administration has a willful blind spot when it comes to nuclear energy. Never mind that globally other countries have got pedal to the metal to build new nuclear plants. Just ask the U.K. China, Japan, France, Italy, and the UAE.

That hasn’t stopped states from developing their own energy policies. This blog has been reporting action in Missouri, Kentucky, West Virginia, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, and Utah. Here are three updates.

Wisconsin

The State of Wisconsin is beginning to realize that putting off a decision on new nuclear power plants until Yucca Mountain opens will require the use of a time machine. Current state law says a new nuclear plant can’t be approved until the federal government has a comprehensive waste solution. Actually, the government does, it is just isn’t implementing it. The solution is called spent fuel reprocessing, and is in demand as a technology elsewhere in the world because of the energy density of spent nuclear fuel compared to coal or natural gas.

This fact is not lost on the people of Wisconsin who are now thinking about changing the state law. On March 12 Frank Jablonski, an attorney in Madison, Wisc., told two legislative committees it is unrealistic to say you want to do something about greenhouse gases and not build nuclear power plants.

“You don’t get there from here realistically without nuclear power being part of the mix,” he said. He added that world demand for electricity demands nuclear energy. He explained there is a general scientific consensus that the problems of spent fuel management and nonproliferation risks are manageable.

Jablonski has a long history working on environmental and energy issues in Wisconsin so the legislature listened carefully. Rep. Jim Soletski (D-Green Bay), who chairs the Energy & Utilities Committee, said a measure to change Wisconsin’s law on nuclear energy will come before the legislature later this session.

Memo to Al Gore, please call Mr. Jablonski. He has something to say to you.

Utah

Despite a contentious start down the road toward nuclear energy two years ago, driven by the outsized ambitions of a former state legislator, the current members of the House and Senate this week endorsed a pro-nuclear resolution. SJR16, sponsored by Rep. Christine Watkins (D-Price), survived several attempts to turn its clear message into mush.

She made her case, with an obvious reference to Yucca, with this point, “For the legislature to wait until everything is perfect is foolish and lacks leadership.” It is obvious she was persuasive. The vote in the House was 56-17.

On the Senate side, Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, said concerns about water supply could be addressed because a nuclear power plant is not a major consumptive user of the resource. The measure also passed there and is now on its way to the governor for signature.

Oklahoma

The Associated Press reports that legislation to streamline the review process for new nuclear power plants passed in the full House on March 12. The legislation represents a turn around for nuclear energy. More than two decades ago Public Service of Oklahoma abandoned its proposed Black Fox project after nine years of head banging with anti-nuclear activists. The bill passed this week also contains instructions to state agencies to come up with proposals for changes to tax law that would encourage the construction of a nuclear power plant in Oklahoma.

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