Proposed Payette Nuclear Plant Raises Questions About Idaho Energy Policy
Dec. 7, 2007

Andrea Shipley, Snake River Alliance Executive Director
(208) 433-9161 office
(208) 514-8713 cell

News that one of the nation’s largest utility companies is considering Payette County for a mega-nuclear power plant raises serious questions about how Idaho plans for its energy future and who is in charge of reviewing large power plants that pose long-term environmental and health risks in Idaho and beyond, the Snake River Alliance said.

“More than a year ago, Idahoans overwhelmingly rejected a 600MW coal-fired power plant in Jerome County,” said Snake River Alliance Executive Director Andrea Shipley. “Last year we were presented with plans for what would be Idaho’s first commercial nuclear power plant at C.J. Strike Reservoir near Bruneau. Now we learn a second proposal for a nuclear plant is likely northwest of Boise. Idahoans should be asking why our state is suddenly a magnet for dirty and potentially dangerous power plants, and just as important who is in charge of approving them. The last thing we need is for Idaho’s environment and the health of its citizens to be sacrificed so the state can become an energy colony for other energy-hungry states.”

Des Moines-based MidAmerican Holdings Co., which is owned by billionaire Warren Buffett’s Berkshire-Hathaway, confirmed its new MidAmerican Nuclear Energy Co., is
conducting geologic tests near Payette to determine the site’s suitability for a nuclear power plant. If built, the plant could be twice the size as the proposed Bruneau nuclear plant. MidAmerican owns PacifiCorp, which operates in Idaho, Wyoming and Utah, as Rocky Mountain Power.

“It’s clear why MidAmerican might be interested in nuclear power,” Shipley said. “Utilities such as PacifiCorp are heavy in coal-fired generation, and they realize the era of dirty coal plants and the greenhouse gas and other toxic emissions they spew are numbered. But nuclear is not the answer to our climate change challenges and it shouldn’t be a utility’s default power choice – particularly in a state like Idaho that has abundant clean and undeveloped renewable energy resources.”

Shipley said the Alliance is concerned that many believe nuclear power is free of climate-changing greenhouse gas and other emissions and that nuclear power can help solve the global climate change threat. Not only are emissions created in the mining and processing of uranium, nuclear plant operations are not completely carbon-free. In addition, it would take more than 1,000 new nuclear plants to make meaningful reductions in CO2 emissions, and it would take decades for those plants to be built.

Another roadblock facing any large generation project is water. Power plants are notorious for requiring massive amounts of water, and as Idahoans know the Snake River is already over-allocated in terms of water withdrawals. The amount of water required for one nuclear plant, let alone two, would have significant impacts on Idaho’s rivers, fish, and of course its agriculture industry.

The Snake River Alliance has long advocated development of a statewide “siting” mechanism in Idaho to enable state and local officials to work together to determine whether such large-scale power plants are necessary, and if so whether they can be built without endangering the health of Idahoans and the environment. While some state agencies have a voice in power plant development by issuing air and water permits, the final decision on whether to allow construction typically rests with a three-member county commission where the plant would be located. Many states have a siting mechanism to review such plants; Idaho is not among them.

Adequate review of large energy generation proposals is all the more crucial given no county in Idaho has the technological and other expertise to process a proposal for a large coal plant, let alone a nuclear power plant. That lack of expertise demands counties should be required to work with the state in reviewing power plant applications, but even the state lacks the expertise needed to handle a nuclear power plant application. Neither the Bruneau plant’s proposed U.S. Evolutionary Power Reactor nor the Mitsubishi pressurized-water reactor proposed for use by MidAmerican have been certified for use in the United States.

“Until MidAmerican comes forward with a proposal, including a location and design for the nuclear plant, it is premature to discuss the company’s plans,” Shipley said. “But as with the Bruneau power plant proposal, it’s difficult to imagine any compelling reason to force a nuclear plant, the deadly radioactive waste it will generate, and the obvious threats it presents onto Idahoans and our environment .

“In any case, the need for these plants has not been demonstrated, other than to find a state with a lax regulatory environment willing to accept a power plant to export energy to other markets. Where is the benefit for Idaho?”

The Snake River Alliance also agrees with energy analysts and agencies such as the four-state Northwest Power and Conservation Council that Idaho can meet its projected energy requirements by implementing more ambitious energy conservation and efficiency programs and by creating a climate to develop the state’s untapped wind, geothermal, and other clean and affordable energy resources.

The Snake River Alliance is an Idaho-based grassroots group working through
research, education, and community advocacy for peace and justice, the end
to nuclear weapons, responsible solutions to nuclear waste and contamination, and sustainable alternatives to nuclear power.