Debate over more nuclear power in IA continues - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Debate over more nuclear power in IA continues

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WATERLOO (KWWL) -

The aftermath of the crisis in Japan has many people here in the US worried about the safety of nuclear energy.  Here in Iowa, the state legislature continues discussing Senate File 390, which would allow MidAmerican Energy to pursue the needed steps to build a new nuclear plant in the state.  Now, those for and against new nuclear energy are sounding off about this legislation.

"Halfway around the world, Japan faces nuclear disaster.  But in our backyard, MidAmerican Energy wants risky new reactors," an advertisement says.

You may have seen ads like that, voicing opposition to a piece of Iowa legislation that would allow MidAmerican Energy to pursue a new nuclear power plant in the state.  The environmental group "Friends of the Earth" is sponsoring the ads in an effort to get citizens to voice their concerns about nuclear power to state legislators.

"People across the political spectrum and all kinds of different organizations are really upset about this.  It doesn't make sense for legislators to be demanding that the public pay up front for new reactors when we know they're not safe and they're not clean," said Damon Moglen with Friends of the Earth.

In addition to the ads, some people have also received recorded phone calls from Friends of the Earth and other groups, urging them to oppose the bill.  MidAmerican Energy says it's likely a last ditch effort to stop the legislation before the current General Assembly session ends in Des Moines.  But the company stands firm that nuclear energy is a power alternative the state needs to consider, since the EPA's taken a negative stance on coal, and increasing natural gas use could spike power prices.

"We just simply believe that keeping nuclear as an option, which is what this does, is a smart play for us as we look at what the energy requirements are going to be for the next 30, 40, 50, 60 years," said Bill Fehrman, president of MidAmerican Energy.

MidAmerican admits gradual rate hikes would likely be implemented if the company is able to build a new nuclear facility, but private investors will also be sought to pay for the plant.  MidAmerican says even if the current legislation is passed, there would still be many hoops to jump through before any new power plant could be constructed in Iowa.

MidAmerican Energy says it is still looking at possible sites for a nuclear power plant.  The bill currently before the legislature does not authorize the company to build a new plant or hike customer costs.  It simply allows MidAmerican to seek investment options for a nuclear facility.

Currently, Senate File 390 is placed on the legislature's calendar as "unfinished business."

Additional Notes:

MidAmerican insists technology advancements in recent years have helped make nuclear power facilities safer.  The Fukushima plant in Japan was built more than four decades ago and is not equipped with all modern safety features.

Friends of the Earth does not support nuclear or coal power projects.  It primarily supports solar and wind energy.

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