The Future of Nuclear
By Sean Slone, CSG Senior Transportation Policy Analyst
As Japan struggles to control its nuclear reactors in the wake of last week’s massive earthquake and tsunami, state officials across the U.S. are weighing in on the future of nuclear power in this country.
Despite a growing need to find energy alternatives here at home, some believe the crisis in Japan may make additional delays in the construction of new nuclear reactors or relicensing of old ones in this country a possibility. The issue is being raised in state capitals from California to Maryland.
In California, 10 state lawmakers warned in a Feb. 25 letter to the U.S. Department of Energy that two nuclear power plants in the state—San Onofre in San Clemente and Diablo Canyon in Avila Beach—are vulnerable to earthquakes. The letter warned federal officials licenses for facilities at the two plants will be up for renewal by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the next decade.
“It is our hope that the unique issues surrounding nuclear power and waste storage and disposal in seismically active California are considered” in the renewal process, the lawmakers wrote.
State Sen. Sam Blakeslee, who signed the letter, is a geophysicist with a doctorate in earthquake studies. As the Japan crisis unfolded, Blakeslee further emphasized the themes of the letter in a statement. “The devastating events in Japan underscore the importance of addressing the seismic uncertainty surrounding California’s nuclear power plants,” he wrote.
In Maryland, majority owners of the Calvert Cliffs nuclear facility in Lusby, Md., met with Gov. Martin O’Malley just last week to discuss state assistance in financing the $10 billion proposed development of a third reactor. In the wake of the Japan crisis, at least one state legislator was cautioning against an overreaction to the incident that could prompt a re-evaluation of the Calvert Cliffs project.
“The crisis in Japan is still occurring, so let’s let the crisis be brought under control and be stabilized and then be appropriately evaluated before we rush to judgment,” House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell, who represents that area, told The (Gaithersburg) Gazette.
Iowa legislators are considering two bills, House File 561 and Senate File 390, aimed at making it easier to expand nuclear generation in the state. The Des Moines Register and The Quad City Timesreported this week that some lawmakers are suggesting the legislation be delayed.
“This is a time for us to pause and ask the right questions about what types of risks we’re willing to undertake to pursue this,” said Sen. Matt McCoy of Des Moines. “Right now people are looking at (Japan) saying, ‘Oh, my God, I don’t want this to be Iowa.’”
Some in the Lone Star State are predicting that the Fukushima nuclear disaster will delay indefinitely a planned expansion of the South Texas Nuclear Project near Houston. But it may have little to do with concerns about seismic activity or nuclear safety in Texas. The Houston Chronicle reported Monday, Tokyo Electric Power Co., which owns the Fukushima plant, was expected to invest in the expansion if the project was awarded a federal loan guarantee. The utility NRG Energy had also previously said it would rely on loan guarantees from the Japanese government to build the new reactors. Both seem unlikely to happen in the wake of the disaster in Japan.
Lawmakers in Illinois and Minnesota were slated to consider repeals of bans on nuclear power, but put those plans on hold following the disaster in Japan. In Wisconsin, meanwhile, Rep. Mark Honadel still plans to co-sponsor a bill this year to overturn the decades-long moratorium on new reactors in that state.