Iowa legislature continues nuclear power bill debate - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Iowa legislature continues nuclear power bill debate

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WATERLOO (KWWL) -

Right now, the Iowa legislature is considering a bill that would give utilities authority to raise money for building a new nuclear plant in our state. 

This comes on the heels of the one year anniversary of the devastating triple disaster that struck Japan:  an earthquake the triggered a tsunami and meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.  That event raised serious questions about the safety of nuclear plants here in the US.

In Iowa, a nuclear power bill passed through the House General Assembly last year, and is now making its way through the state Senate.

You may have seen ads voicing opposition to that legislation.  The environmental group Friends of the Earth is behind the ads, insisting that nuclear energy is not a safe option for new power.

"The nuclear power industry would have us believe that nuclear power is clean, safe and cheap.  We have seen from experience that it is none of the three.  It's dirty.  It is dangerous.  And it is expensive," said Mike Carberry, Iowa campaign coordinator for Friends of the Earth.

But MidAmerican Energy insists that nuclear power is safe and may be the best option going forward.

"The small module reactors that we're looking at as a potential for Iowa's energy future are the safest on the market.  They do not have technology similar to what Japan had.  Actually, that technology has improved significantly, and we're making sure that our customers best interests are at hand," said Tina Potthoff, spokesperson for MidAmerican Energy.

The company wants to make clear that this legislation does not give utilities authority to raise rates.  But in the long run, the price of adding any new power to the grid could be passed on to customers.  It's just too early to know when, or how much, rates could climb.

"The company hasn't even announced that it's going to pursue nuclear.  It's just that it needs to be left as on option on the table.  And so to be able to speculate about what exactly is going to be happening in the future would be very premature," Potthoff said.

Still, legislators are now considering an amendment to the nuclear bill that would require utilities to actually build a new power plant with rate hike money, so it couldn't be used for anything else.

Nuclear power legislation certainly faces an uphill battle, not just from environmentalists.  A recent Iowa Poll by the Des Moines Register found that 77% of Iowans are opposed to a new nuclear plant.

Even if the current nuclear power legislation passes, it will take at least a decade for a nuclear plant to become reality.  That's because the Iowa Utilities Board has to weigh in, and MidAmerican would have to select a site, study it, and then build the facility.

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