Iowa shouldn't be looking into nuclear energy


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If you've ever been to Zombie Burger in Des Moines, you'd understand. The walls are splattered with murals of the apocalypse — fat men and women slowly walking on the streets of the once humble and quaint city. The burgers are great, but the sentiment stays with you.

Being a zombie would suck.

But, it seems, if Iowans are even thinking about building a nuclear-power plant, then we have pretty much already become zombies of a certain nature. And they are thinking about it.

The Iowa Senate Commerce Committee was scheduled to take up a bill in which MidAmerican Energy proposed the construction of a nuclear-power plant Thursday. The estimated costs for the "small-scale" plant are estimated at around $2 billion.

A bit of a hefty cost that would leave any zombie groaning. Sure, finding alternative-energy sources is in my top-five most important issues, but nuclear energy? Really?

The bill to construct this plant was approved in the House last session, and Commerce Committee Chairman Sen. Matt McCoy is trying to revived it.

"We're legislators," McCoy said. "We want to keep this option on the table and allow MidAmerican the opportunity to run this bill up the flagpole with the [Iowa Utilities Board] and consumer advocates and try to make a business case for why it should proceed."

But a business case should not be the only one made. Of course it's good business for MidAmerican to tap into the nuclear-energy market.

As it stands, Iowa gets its lion's share of electricity from coal plants, roughly 72 percent. And no one can like coal because it kills the penguins. The state's only nuclear-power plant provides nearly 8 percent of the energy. If MidAmerican could tap into this market, it would look good for doing its part to save the penguins, while having a terrific stake in the nuclear-energy market in Iowa.

But just like being a zombie, having a nuclear-power plant in your neighborhood sucks, too.

According to U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission records and a yearlong report from the Associated Press concerning nuclear safety, Tritium, which is a fun, radioactive form of hydrogen, has been known to leak from nuclear-power plants over time. This would be fine if the leak were harmless, but obviously, contaminating major water sources with radioactive material will kill something. Here's the kicker — Tritium has leaked from at least 48 of 65 sites, a few as close as Illinois and Minnesota.

And we all know that these power plants need uranium. Uranium needs to be transported; mistakes can happen in the process. So, all of the sudden, we have massive trucks carrying uranium driving around the boonies of Iowa.

Oh, and then there's the waste generated from mining uranium. And rainwater runoff contaminating groundwater with heavy metals. We may not be mining it, but we're already buying the product.

Of course, the case can be made that nuclear-power plants will do more for the community than bad.

For one, it will decrease Iowa's reliance on coal, which, McCoy says, will go up by 40 percent in cost in the near future because of increased federal regulations.

For another, it doesn't give off the amount of greenhouse gases that other forms of electricity generation, such as coal, do. And it's an alternate. So we should give it a try.

I'm not buying that. We need alternative-fuel sources that can be sustained for the growing population of the world. But nuclear power is not it. There are too many risks, too many holes, too much unknown about the potential side effects. We need a real answer, not a business answer.

And until we get it, we'll all just be walking around like zombies.

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