Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Nuclear siting initiative will protect Idaho's way of life

Published in Times-News on Tuesday, January 29, 2008

By Diana Obenauer
I was born and raised in Jerome, Idaho, a wonderful, neighborly and special place to live. My roots go deep in my love for our wonderful Magic Valley.Military service and nursing education taught me how to preserve our fighting strength and care for all people in need. I am proud to have served in the Gulf War, and I am proud to serve Jerome County as a county commissioner.

It is important to learn from the past, as we prepare for Idaho's future.When I returned to Jerome from military service, I found changes I had not expected. I do not oppose growth, but it is important to live within our limits. Few people wanted to look at any limits, or at growth that was diversified. Idaho's water has to be used for our agricultural base and our people. It defines our limits.

I discovered neighbors had sold property to Sempra coal company and county permits were already approved. These plants spew mercury, affecting our children and our water. At first, we seemed defenseless, however, miraculously widespread citizen action from all over Magic Valley including the Idaho Dairy Association achieved a legislative moratorium on coal plants, overruling the ill-conceived local decision of county commissioners.

No nuclear power plant is totally "safe." The Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission admit continual threats from disgruntled employees, lax security, and terrorist threats from both physical and computer intruders are today's reality.

Mike Sparks, director of the DOE Office of Technology, admits, "The adversary has full use of the technology in advance to being made. And if we stand still and don't take the initiative to stay a step ahead on the technology, I think we're setting ourselves up for a disaster sometime down in the future."

I believe in "local control." These plants make all Idahoans "local." I am concerned about how decisions to allow nuclear power plants in Idaho will be made and so should every citizen in Idaho.The 2007 Idaho Energy Plan invites merchant nuclear power plants to use Idaho.

Will Payette and Owyhee county commissioners succumb to local pressure, special interest or intimidation to allow these plants in their county? Who stands to profit from them?

Do those who profit live in close proximity to them? If they are built, will Idahoans have to outbid California costs for any electricity generated from our soil and water?

I believe in being proactive instead of reactive and have joined with Dr. Peter Rickards and the good citizens of Idaho all across our state who have started an initiative to help protect Idaho and its citizens. This proactive group, Idaho Families For The Safest Energy (IFFSE) simply endorses the adoption of laws other states use to protect the health, safety and welfare of its citizens. IFFSE also endorses the development and support of a wide diversity of safer, more cost effective, sustainable energy development.

Why should Idaho get stuck with these risks? The IFFSE initiative bans nuclear power until a final waste dump is approved and open. Idaho still houses the melted core of Three Mile Island. Why should our state become a bigger repository for more radioactive waste? If that is ever resolved, county commissioners still make the decision.

However, before the final permit is granted, statewide voter approval is required.This provides a fail-safe opportunity for all citizens within Idaho to have a voice in decisions that ultimately affect all of us. All citizens have the constitutional right to protect their family's life, liberty, health and personal property. This Initiative does just that, and we recommend the Legislature enact this safeguard into law this session.

Diana Obenauer, a Republican, is a Jerome County commissioner.

2 comments:

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Amos said...

I think Diana's fear is misplaced and I’d like to tell you why I think so. The risk of global warming is far greater than the risk from a nuclear power station. Nuclear energy is one of the best resources we have to slow or avoid the consequences of global warming. Nuclear isn’t the only answer, but it is an important part of the answer. We dismiss it at our peril.
Nuclear power in the United States has a good safety record. As an industry, commercial nuclear power plants have a better safety record than almost any other industry, including office work. The health care industry, which is something you probably understand, is a good analogy.
Although many are killed and injured each year by mistakes in the health care industry, the good they do is perceived to balance the harm. In other words, the benefit is thought to outweigh the risk. I find it very strange that the nuclear power industry, which has never hurt anyone, but has done much to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, is seen by some as evil, dangerous, and not beneficial. The amount of greenhouse gas emission avoided by nuclear energy each day is equal to that emitted daily by all the automobiles in the nation.
I guess the problem we face in making energy source decisions is that the greatest danger - global warming - progresses slowly and thus may be difficult to take seriously. However, that means the decision being made right now will be extremely important 20 and 30 years from now. Many prominent anti-nuclear power activists from the ‘60s and ‘70s acknowledge they were on the wrong side of the issue back then and activists today may be pushing misinformed citizens into making the same mistake.
Even the Union of Concerned Scientist is guardedly suggesting that nuclear power can contribute to the fight against global warming. There are issues they would like to see addressed, but at least they are trying to help, not obstruct. There are some interesting revelations in their recent report titled, “Nuclear Power in a Warming World.”
The UCS says that spent fuel can be safely stored dry, on-site up to 50 years while DOE prepares a geological repository. They further say that Areva’s Evolutionary Power Reactor (designated for use in Owyhee County) is the safest design because its containment structure can withstand commercial airliner attack and it has four independent safety systems. The UCS is known for criticizing nuclear energy, so you have to believe that when it makes a supportive statement like that it is not made lightly.
I would like to address some of your other specific concerns:
Cyber terrorist attack – There is no outside access to the computers that are used in nuclear plant control and safety systems. They simply are not connected to anything outside the plant such as the Internet. It is therefore impossible to harm a reactor plant via cyber terrorism. The Mike Sparks quote you reference is out of context. He is speaking of DOE and INL facilities. They are not the cognizant authority over commercial Nuclear Power Plants. NRC is the cognizant authority and they do not allow reactor plant control systems or computers to connect to anything accessible from outside the plant.
Exporting electricity – The merchant nuclear power plant does not put its power up for bid. It responds to the “Requests for Quote” solicitations of utilities. This is the first step in establishing a long term contract – a purchase agreement. If the utility does not like the merchant’s offer, they don’t have to buy it. They can try to buy it from another merchant. But chances are it won’t be much different.
As it stands right now, Idaho Power is already purchasing a percentage of its power off the grid and paying “California” prices. The cheap power Idahoans have enjoyed comes from old assets that are limited in capacity and not able to grow with demand. When sources of power are limited, the wholesale price of power rises as utilities compete with each other for purchase agreements. When supplies are abundant, such as would be with one or two big power plants in the vicinity, the price will be lower. As with any commodity, the price is inversely proportional to the supply. No big power plants = high prices. The argument about competing with California is vacuous.
You speak of laws other states use to protect themselves from unwanted nuclear and coal plants. California was the leader in this gimmick. Consequently they import much of their electric power from nuclear plants in Arizona and coal plants in Wyoming and Utah. Is the global greenhouse effect any different because the coal plant is in another state? Is the U.S. any safer because the nuclear power plant is in Arizona? California has cut off its nose to spite its face. California has abundant water to cool power plants because of the Pacific Ocean yet they let other, water starved states supply their power at elevated prices. They have actually harmed themselves and put a drag on other states’ resources. Is that the model Idaho should follow?
Some say that renewable energy can do it all. I wish it were true; I really mean that. Alas, it is only true in theory. Some say there is enough wind energy to power the whole state and then some. You should speak to LeRoy Jerolimek; perhaps you know him. He has been struggling for six years to get a 10 megawatt wind farm developed on his property. He may finally be close, but as yet, nothing exists. Further, much of this state’s wind energy is remote or on protected land.
Right or wrong, constructing power generation projects and transmission systems is a private enterprise responsibility in this country. You cannot make them do what you think is best. In fact, it is likely you don’t know what is best when all the factors are taken into account. Yet, you want poorly informed Idahoans to vote on what energy sources private enterprise will be permitted to develop. That is what’s dangerous, when you consider the global consequences of making the wrong choice.