Legislators pass nuclear energy bill

BY ARIANA WITT | MARCH 03, 2011 7:20 AM

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A panel of Iowa legislators voted unanimously Wednesday to approve a bill allowing Iowa energy companies to expand the use of nuclear power.

And the University of Iowa could be heavily involved in the process, some experts said.
The House Commerce Committee voted in favor of House Study Bill 124, under which the Iowa Utilities Board would be able to expand nuclear-energy facilities.

There is one nuclear plant in Iowa, the Duane Arnold Energy Center, near Palo. The plant generates more than 4 million megawatts of energy annually, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

In a January interview with The Daily Iowan, UI President Sally Mason said she spoke with House leaders on nuclear energy and expressed interest in the UI’s involvement with a possible expansion in Iowa.

The UI Public Policy Center, the Urban and Regional Planning Department, and the Tippie College of Business would likely be choices for research should nuclear energy be explored in the state.

However, nuclear power has its doubters. UI engineering Professor Jerald Schnoor said he doesn’t agree with the use of nuclear energy.

“I find it difficult to fund a $1 billion plant that won’t produce energy for more than a decade,” he said. “And the public has real skepticism for it as an energy option.”

UI physics Professor Emeritus Edwin Norbeck disagreed. He said nuclear energy is one of the most cost-effective energy sources and could be an “interesting” addition to the UI’s decreasing dependence on such fossil fuels as coal.

“The amount of [nuclear] fuel that you handle is so small,” Norbeck said. “You get more waste from a coal plant in a day than you ever would from a nuclear plant.”

Coal represents about 56 percent of the UI’s energy purchases, said Ferman Milster, associate director of Facilities Management’s utilities and energy management.

Though the bill passed the Commerce Committee unanimously, representatives also expressed varying views on the effects of increasing the state’s reliance on nuclear power.

Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, a member of the committee, said he thinks the bill relies too heavily on the consumers. If the Iowa Utilities Board began nuclear-facility projects, consumers would bear the costs, he said.

“This is just a bill that says Iowa is leaving the door open for the possibilities of nuclear energy,” Jacoby said. “But those shouldn’t fall on consumers.”

But Rep. Ralph Watts, R-Adel, said that would only make sense. Those who consume the energy should pay for the buildings constructed to foster it, he said.

“The real sad part of this is that the [Iowa Utilities Board is] being forced to consider the nuclear option over coal, which would be less costly in the long run,” Watts said.

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