Will a nuclear reactor bring money to the state, or supply other states with energy, leaving Utah to store the waste? –More bill battles at capitol hill.
by Jonny Glines
To Vanessa Pierce, the concept is common sense: “If you’re going to build a house, you have to plan for a sewer system. So if you’re going to build a nuclear reactor, you should have a plan where the high-level waste goes.” That’s why Pierce, who is the Executive Director of the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah (HEAL), supports Senate Bill 42. Her synopsis sounds simple, but if you know anything about nuclear power and Utah politics, nothing here is simple.
For almost a decade legal battles were fought over whether the nuclear waste from out-of-state plants should be stored in Utah’s West Desert. In the end, the Utah legislature decided not to allow the waste in the state. Now, there’s a new battle over former State Representative and CEO of Transition Power Development Aaron Tilton’s proposed nuclear reactor. The reactor would be built in Green River, but has not yet been licensed. State Senator Scott McCoy proposed SB 42, to place restrictions on the plant and future plants to come. Vanessa Pierce of HEAL says the bill will do two things: force plant developers to determine where waste will be stored before the plant is designed and ensure the energy produced is used in Utah and not outsourced to other states.
“The bill protects Utahans by ensuring that the energy isn’t outsourced to places like California, and in effect, sacrifice our water and ultimately store California’s high-chemical nuclear waste in our state,” said Pierce. “The bill also says before a reactor can be built here, there has to be a place to put the waste. Tilton has said himself that he plans to put the waste on-site for the next century and that the waste would have a life of probably 40 to 60 years. We think that is a backwards way of deciding what to do with one of the most dangerous substances on the planet.”
But Tilton said “the bill is completely unnecessary, and more to the point, misleading.” He doesn’t deny that the waste will be on the site for decades, in fact, Tilton told Utah Stories it could even be on site for 100 years. But he challenges the idea that the waste is dangerous, stating in over 50 years, there has never been one death or injury at a single nuclear power reactor. He also says that the location where the waste will be stored is already determined, but he says HEAL Utah just doesn’t like the answer. “It already has been decided by federal statue and regulation where the spent fuel will be stored. Spent fuel will first be stored on site anywhere from 40 – 100 years. After its initial storage on-site, the spent fuel will either be reprocessed or reused or it will be store in a geologic repository or both. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has concluded that spent fuel is safe to store on site for over 100 years,” Tilton said.
Tilton also said that Utah will be the company’s primary market. He added that logistically, it would make the most sense to sell the energy in the state, but that “some of that power could be sold out of state. Transition Power Development will certainly be entertaining discussions with buyers before that time.” Tilton said SB 42 isn’t about keeping the energy in Utah though; it’s about putting a ban on nuclear development in that state. He says the bill has lines that clearly match California’s nuclear power policies. “California is a poor example to follow. They have some of the highest electric rates in the U.S. that typically double Utah’s rates,” Tilton said.
Tilton first received heat about his plant when he served on the Public Utilities and Technology Committee of the Utah House of Representatives, a committee that considers legislation that would help design nuclear power plants. Tilton’s efforts as CEO of Transition Power Development and his obvious political ties made headlines, and to many, it was a blatant conflict of interest. However, Tilton protested, stating that the committee primary deals with utility plants like Rocky Mountain Power, not private plants like his company. On his web site, Tilton said: “I have no more conflict of interest serving on this committee than I would if, say, I were a farmer or rancher or owned a pizza parlor or an auto dealership.”
Pierce didn’t exactly agree with the former State Representative’s comparison. “That’s ludicrous because who is his customer base going to be? Utilities and municipalities! What he has conveniently failed to mention is that committee will often oversee issues of power utilities itself, regardless if it is a municipality, utility or private entity. It’s the prerogative of the rules committee to assign bills to whatever the committee they think generally has the expertise of the situation and when you’re dealing with power energy, that’s the very committee that was sitting on.”
Tilton was not re-elected and Pierce implied it was because people finally saw his private business interests and his political ties as unsettling. She said “clearly the people who put him in office did not think that he was doing a very good job.” Tilton said it had nothing to do with nuclear power. “It had to do with School Vouchers. Nebo School District is the largest employer in District 65. I supported and voted for school vouchers. The school district strongly opposed them,” Tilton said.
Tilton lost his position in public office but remains CEO of TPD. He says his company’s reactor will inject Utah’s economy with billions of dollars and will create 3,500 construction jobs alone. Pierce argued that the nuclear industry is the most subsidized, receiving 59% of all government subsidies to the power industry. However, Tilton said he has “never applied for, or asked state or federal taxpayers for subsidies for the new power plant.”
Tilton is definitely in the majority on the Nuclear issue. In the 2006 legislation session, the senate passed a bill that outlined Utah’s approach to new energy research, including nuclear power. 24 out of 29 senators were in favor of the bill. Only Senator McCoy voted against it. The other four senators were absent. “Senator McCoy and HEAL Utah are clearly in the minority,” said Tilton.
As for this bill; it sat with the rules committee until Senator Hinkins introduced a new resolution. Pierce said it is convenient that Hinkins’ district includes the area that might house Tilton’s reactor. Pierce says there are many ties between government officials and nuclear advocates that the public doesn’t know about, she doesn’t consider it a conspiracy but says, “I think this is a clear example of how power can be wielded and abused to advance private business interest at the expense of the public’s interest.”
As for Tilton; he just wants some proof. “No matter what the scare tactics of the anti-nuclear groups have been, they can never get passed this fact: the commercial U.S. nuclear power industry has accumulated almost 3400 reactor years of operation since the first plant started up in 1957 without a serious injury or a single fatality to any member of the public. The nuclear industry is one of the safest industries in the