Pursuit of new nuclear power in Iowa was a bad idea when then governor Tom Vilsack began promoting it, and remains so. MidAmerican Energy’s announcement in the Des Moines Register today, that the utility “has scrapped plans for Iowa’s second nuclear plant and will refund $8.8 million ratepayers paid for a now-finished feasibility study,” was welcomed by people throughout the state. In the end, talk about nuclear power was a weird combination of the vaporous breath of politicians combined with a financially stable and well capitalized public utility owned by one of the richest men on the planet. The discussion Vilsack started is over for now.
In an email to members, Dianne Glenney, co-founder and communications contact for the grassroots organization S.A.F.E. (Saving America’s Farmland and Environment) wrote, “we have learned more about the dangers of nuclear energy than we ever wanted to know. But, we are much better informed now and an informed citizenry is primed to be a watchdog for future happenings, to report issues when they happen, and to take action.” While S.A.F.E. came into being only after the utility’s planned sites for a new nuclear power plant were recently announced in Muscatine and Fremont counties, Glenney’s words summed up the four-year process that stopped MidAmerican’s nuclear ambitions. Knowledge is power, and by 2013, the Iowa electorate had been educated about nuclear power.
As always, there is more to the story.
The idea that there was a nuclear renaissance in the United States was a product of the imagination of politicians, the nuclear industry, corporate media and the richest Americans. The nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan on March 11, 2011 brought the risks of nuclear power to the public’s attention. Shortly after the earthquake and tsunami that caused the failures, MidAmerican Energy’s Bill Fehrman asserted in an Iowa Senate Commerce Committee meeting that small modular reactors would solve some of the problems of Fukushima. The public wasn’t buying it, at least to the extent that they would support the legislation Fehrman said was necessary for the utility to get the financial backing of Wall Street to build a new nuclear power generating station. In today’s announcement, MidAmerican conceded that lack of an approved plan for a small modular reactor was problematic, citing as one of the reasons for pulling the plug, “there is no approved design for the modular nuclear plant it envisioned.”
A final decision by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to deny a license to the Calvert Cliffs III nuclear reactor, slated for southern Maryland, is evidence that if there was a nuclear renaissance, it may be over from an NRC perspective.
Another part of the story is the abundance of natural gas resulting from increased exploration and discover using the hydraulic fracturing process. With the cost of natural gas going down, interest in more expensive nuclear power is waning. It is important that MidAmerican Energy noted the potential regulation of carbon as an impediment to building a natural gas power generating station, something that did not stop Alliant Energy from seeking approval for such a plant in Marshalltown.
The current solution to the radioactive nuclear waste produced by nuclear power generating stations is no solution at all. The plan is to store it on sites where it is generated until the federal government figures out what to do with it. Reasonable people can’t seriously consider adding new nuclear power capacity until this long standing deficiency is addressed.
Dianne Glenney of S.A.F.E. wrote last night, “no one should have to live under the strain of a potential nuclear power plant in their neighborhood, community, state and/or country. Someone is always downwind of every nuclear plant.” Now enough Iowans know this. Let’s hope we don’t forget.