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Bush Energy Plan and Ohio’s Nuclear Power

Friday, June 1, 2001 at 2:23 PM

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Increased production of electricity is a centerpoint of President Bush's national energy policy. In addition to encouraging the building of new natural gas and coal-fired plants, the policy also calls for a reconsideration of the nuclear industry and its potential for increasing the nation's electricity supply. But critics here in Ohio say Bush's plan doesn't address the problems the state already has with its existing nuclear power. 90.3's Karen Schaefer reports.

Karen Schaefer- Ask anyone who’s followed the deregulation of Ohio’s electricity market and they’ll tell you the biggest single issue is stranded costs. That’s the price consumers are paying for utility investments in nuclear power plants. Ohio has two nuclear plants, both owned by FirstEnergy. Davis-Besse near Toledo was built in the 1970’s at a cost of $1 billion. But Perry Nuclear Plant east of Cleveland - which went on line just ten years ago—cost a whopping $8 billion to build. Before deregulation, FirstEnergy argued before the state Public Utilities Commission that those costs meant they wouldn’t be able to compete in the new market. The PUCO signed a deal that allows FirstEnergy to re-coup 100% of their stranded costs from rate payers. Chris Trepal, who heads Earth Day Coalition in Cleveland, says that’s bad for Ohio and bad for business.

Chris Trepal- We have had a tremendous impact on our economy up here in northern Ohio, because of our two nuclear power plants. Northeast Ohio folks are paying an $8 billion bill for the Perry Nuclear Power Plant. That affects our businesses, our economic development, our schools, our churches, our entire economy.

KS- FirstEnergy officials say they have no plans to build a new nuclear facility and have no idea what a new one would cost. They are considering an extending licensing of their plants when they expire in 2017 and 2025. But in the meantime FirstEnergy has a headache of its own—the storage of nuclear waste. Like every other U.S. nuclear facility, both Perry and Davis-Besse have been storing all their highly-radioactive spent nuclear fuel on-site in huge underground pools. Davis-Besse plant manager Howard Bergendahl says they’ve run out of room below ground.

Howard Bergendahl- You’re standing right next to all the spent fuel, all the high-level waste that’s been created by the operation of this plant for 20 years

KS- How much more storage space do you have?

HB- Well, we didn’t expect to keep all of our spent fuel in this pool for the entire life of the plant, so we are re-racking, putting different racks in to hold more fuel.

KS- FirstEnergy officials say they’d prefer to ship their nuclear waste to a national disposal site promised years ago by the federal government. Such a facility has yet to be approved. It will probably be next year before President Bush signs legislation that will put the proposed Yucca Mountain site in Nevada on track. Critics that charge the transportation of nuclear waste by rail and highway poses unacceptable hazards to local populations. At a nuclear waste transportation hearing held by the Department of Energy in Cleveland last year, nuclear industry backers touted a perfect record in shipments of nuclear material. But Harvey Wasserman, Senior Analyst for Greenpeace, challenges that argument.

Harvey Wasserman- We just saw on May 2nd a serious accident involving radioactive waste being transported in Canada. Two people were killed. Apparently radiation spilled on a highway. There is no end to the potential problem of what’s going to happen to this stuff if they try to start moving it.

KS- But even if issues of nuclear waste storage and plant construction costs could be solved, there’s another issue critics say the Bush plan doesn’t address. That’s the question of whether states like Ohio really need new capacity to avoid duplicating California’s current electricity crisis. Alan Schrieiber—who heads Ohio’s Public Utilities Commission—maintains they don’t.

Alan Schrieiber- There’s a tremendous amount of generation being built in Ohio. I’m also chairman of the Power Siting Board and in the last two years, we’ve got over two-thousand Megawatts of power—that’s peaking power—that has come on-line. And we have applications before us that would result in up to 10,000 more Megawatts of power coming in over the next few years

KS- Anti-nuclear activists says other issues surrounding nuclear power—such as safety and reliability concerns—are also left out of the Bush energy policy. And there’s still the problem of overcoming local opposition to the siting of a new nuclear plant. But until a utility company actually proposes building a new nuclear facility—and figures out how to pay for it—the issue of expanding Ohio’s nuclear power industry may be moot. In Cleveland, Karen Schaefer, 90.3, 90.3 WCPN.

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