Lawmakers urge continued need for nuke plant site permit

State Rep. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, lives closer to the Callaway Nuclear Power Plant than any other Missouri lawmaker.

And she thinks the world’s recent concerns with Japan’s potential nuclear disaster is an even stronger reason to push forward with efforts to build a second reactor at the power plant site near Reform.

Although most experts believe the Japanese plants withstood the power of the 9.0-magnitude earthquake on March 11, the tsunami’s 20-30 foot wall of water overpowered and flooded the back-up generators and power supplies intended to keep the plants’ cooling systems operating even as they shut down.

The result has been explosions, fires, radiation leaks and possible meltdowns of the reactor cores and containment buildings at several power plants.

And that has Missouri opponents arguing it’s just too dangerous to consider building another nuclear power plant so near the New Madrid fault — which shook almost 200 years ago with the most violent earthquake known in the United States, east of the Rocky Mountains.

“The site permit looks at all those things,” Riddle said last week. “It looks at the seismic table, the (possibilities) — it is the site analysis, is it safe to have it there?

“It’s our emergency preparedness plan.”

Riddle is the House sponsor of a bill that would allow Ameren Missouri, or another electric utility, to charge ratepayers for the costs of applying for — and winning — a site permit from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

Under current Missouri law — which voters statewide enacted in 1976 — an investor-owned utility company must pay for all the planning, design and construction work out of its owned or borrowed funds, then get the Public Service Commission to add those costs to the customers’ bills after the plant is operating and producing power. Freshman Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, is the Senate sponsor. “It’s a big project,” he said last week, “and it’s an important project to the state. “And it is receiving statewide support from every corner in the state.” Last Wednesday night, Ameren officials met with lawmakers interested in learning more about the plant’s safety planning for both the current and proposed nuclear reactors.

When Kehoe told colleagues about that meeting, he noted the current Callaway plant had been “named ‘Most Safe’ by MSNBC,” the cable network operated as a joint venture between NBC Television and Microsoft.

Riddle pointed to the same report in her conversations.

But, as a story in Friday’s Fulton Sun and News Tribune pointed out, the NRC said it does not rank plants based on risk of damage from an earthquake. Spokeswoman Lisa Uselding said MSNBC reached its own conclusions in reporting its rankings — which the network said showed the Callaway Plant faces the least risk from an earthquake of all 104 U.S. nuclear plants.

Uselding said the NRC did not approve the rankings.

That 91-page report (including the main report and 58 pages of supplemental material, dated Sept. 2, 2010) found that the risks of seismic damage to nuclear power plant reactor cores “are consistent with the Commission’s Safety Goal Policy Statement because they are within the subsidiary objective.”

Using “new models to estimate earthquake ground motion and updated models for earthquake sources in seismic regions around Charleston, S.C., New Madrid, Mo., and southern Illinois and Indiana,” the NRC’s report found “increased estimates of the seismic hazards at many plants in the Central and Eastern United States.”

Still, the report said, “these estimates remain small in an absolute sense.”

So the NRC said last fall that more study is needed, but that the nation’s nuclear plants — including the Callaway plant — meet the safety criteria established when each plant was built.

Last week, neither Ameren Missouri nor the Nuclear Regulatory Commission could provide immediately a copy of the original seismological and geological study of the Callaway plant site.

But, both the construction permit issued in April 1976, and the operating license issued in June 1984, said the facility could be built and “operated at the proposed location without undue risk to the health and safety of the public.”

Riddle said the early site permit would determine if that still is true.

“And that’s what we’re just trying to do,” she said, “to, at least, get that on the table and look at all the pieces and parts and see if we can move forward.”

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