In wake of Japanese disaster, Iowa nuclear bill may be dead

Duane Arnold Energy Center in Palo, Iowa's lone nuclear source, uses technology similar to that which failed in Japan.

Legislators reconsider positions, nuclear proponents remain convinced that new technology is safe

A bill to incentivize nuclear energy production in Iowa was supposed to breeze through the legislature. But now, following reports of leaked radiation from three blasts in four days at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant, some Iowa lawmakers are reconsidering their positions.

The Associated Press reports:

Sen. Matt McCoy voted for the bill when it was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee 13-2 this month, but now he’s undecided. A subcommittee is set to debate the legislation again Thursday and hear from the president of MidAmerican Energy, which is considering building a nuclear power plant in Iowa. The state currently has one nuclear plant.

“I think they have an extreme burden now to resell this,” said McCoy, a Democrat from Des Moines. “I think the question is what assurances can you give us that this is safe.”

The committee’s chairwoman, Sen. Swati Dandekar, expects lawmakers will have a lot of questions for MidAmerican CEO William Fehrman.

But in a Capitol news conference on Friday Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds said she expects the state will continue considering adding a second nuclear power plant – a structure that would employ technology unlike that which failed in Japan, according to William Fehrman, MidAmerican Energy CEO.

The Des Moines Register reports:

He stressed that if the utility decides to build a nuclear plant and gains approval, the plant’s design would circumvent some of the dangers Japan’s reactors face.

New modular technology would rely on gravity, not electrical pumps, to move cooling water among the underground reactors, he said. Plus, the plant would be built as a series of small units, so a problem in one unit would affect only a small portion of the generation of, perhaps, 1,000 megawatts.

Iowa’s lone nuclear plant, Duane Arnold Energy Center in Palo, uses electrical pumps like those in the Japanese plant, the Iowa Independent reports.

Environmentalists remain opposed to nuclear expansion.

Though they have long advocated a switch from coal, which provides 72 percent of Iowa’s power, environmental groups worry about the nation’s lack of infrastructure for nuclear waste disposal, the energy consuming process of mining uranium to power nuclear plants and the possibility that a shift to nuclear energy will sap momentum from Iowa’s other efforts in renewable energy – like wind and solar.

See the Iowa Independent for a further rap-up up state coverage of the nuclear debate.

For a step-by-step graphical look at how technology failed in Fukushima, and to learn about the radiation threat in Japan, see coverage from the BBC.

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