Proposed Callaway County nuclear plant divisive among energy groups

Proposed bill could protect consumers from rising utility rates.

With the passage of the Missouri Clean and Renewable Energy Construction Act passing in a House committee on Tuesday, an old debate in Missouri between the benefits and drawbacks of nuclear energy has resurfaced.

The bill, which would repeal 1976 legislation prohibiting utility companies from raising rates on consumers while in construction, has not only drawn ire from representatives about whether it has sufficient consumer protections, but also whether investment in nuclear energy is beneficial to the state of Missouri.

Opponents of the bill, and of nuclear energy, point out notable problems with nuclear energy in terms of storage of the radioactive nuclear material.

Missouri Votes Conservation believes nuclear energy is dirty and will distract utilities companies from pursuing efficiency.

Other environmental groups are cautioning the usage of nuclear energy as well, including the Missouri chapter of the Sierra Club and the Missouri Coalition for the Environment.

"Nuclear is not clean nor is it renewable, given that uranium is not an infinite resource," MCE spokeswoman Erin Noble said.

Noble said the group was concerned about the building of another power plant in Callaway County, for which the bill would create funding. The money would come from AmerenUE charging ratepayers a higher price for service.

"It is not a prudent decision until we solve the waste issue and to have the waste sitting above ground in these cooling pools in Callaway County is very unsafe," Noble said.

Some energy groups have come in favor of increased nuclear investment.

Warren Wood, a spokesman for the Missouri Energy Development Association, said public support for building of more nuclear material has increased.

"If you look back 20 to 30 years ago, if you polled the population you would find that it was very much a divided issue," Warren said. "But now with the polling, you can get up there close of 80 percent of people are in favor of building a second nuclear power plant."

Despite concerns about safety issues regarding the new plant, the Union of Concerned Scientists, praised the existing Callaway County plant in a statement for its use of a reactor that meets their standard for security.

"Of the new designs under consideration in the United States, only one -- known as the European Power Reactor or EPR -- appears to have the potential to be significantly safer and more secure against terrorist attack," the group stated in the release.

Another issue related to the controversy has been the transportation of nuclear waste across the state of Missouri.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, has sponsored a bill to add fees to trucks that drive nuclear waste through Columbia, which passed the Senate unanimously two weeks ago.

Despite these concerns, Schaefer said further investment in nuclear energy should be considered.

"It is certainly a clean emission, and I think we do need to look at nuclear, and we do need to incorporate it," Schaefer said.

Recent ballot initiatives in Missouri have avoided concerns about nuclear energy.

Proposition C, which passed last November by a considerable margin, does not include nuclear power in the language, which states that by 2021, investor-owned utilities in Missouri must have 15 percent of energy generated from renewable resources.

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