Residents Raise Nuke Plant Questions at Mountain Home Meeting

By The Snake River Alliance
July 2, 2008

More than 25 concerned residents filled a room at the Mountain Home Public Library Tuesday for the first open discussion of the proposed Elmore County nuclear power plant since Alternate Energy Holdings pulled up roots in Owyhee County last spring and moved its nomad nuke plant upstream on the Snake River.

“For the first time, those affected by AEHI’s power plant proposal had a chance to ask their questions and get straight-up answers about the project and about the company,” Snake River Alliance Executive Director Andrea Shipley said after the Mountain Home meeting. “The people of Elmore County and across southern Idaho have been looking for answers to their concerns, but unfortunately they haven’t been getting them at AEHI’s orchestrated and exclusive meetings so far.”

The Alliance called the meeting simply to facilitate a community discussion on the issues residents are most concerned about, based on their unanswered questions during AEHI’s June meetings in Mountain Home and in Glenns Ferry. “We’re here only to serve as an information resource for you,” Alliance Energy Policy Analyst Liz Woodruff told those attending the meeting. Unlike AEHI’s meetings, at which the nuclear plant developer allowed questions only from Elmore County residents, Tuesday’s meeting allowed everyone attending to ask questions or comment on the proposal.

Residents said they were frustrated by inaccurate or incomplete answers given by AEHI President Don Gillispie, particularly on such matters as where he plans to sell his nuclear power and to whom, the amounts of water his plant will truly require, what he plans to do with the mountain of highly radioactive waste he’ll generate, and how county residents can educate their elected officials about the power plant about AEHI’s checkered past in Idaho.

On the last point, former Owhyee County Planning & Zoning Commissioner Joe Weatherby was on hand to answer questions about the developer’s misadventures in that county, where officials had to hound AEHI to pay the $50,000 it promised to offset the costs of processing its application and about its illegal construction of two data-collection towers on the former power plant site.

“They never made a proposal, so it’s difficult to evaluate without a proposal,” Weatherby said of AEHI’s incomplete submissions to Owyhee County. One thing was clear, he said, referring to Gillispie’s claims his plant will use just 100,000 gallons of water a day: “These water usage numbers are preposterous,” he said, adding the more accurate number is 43 million gallons a day.

As for Gillispie’s claims his plant will use a “dry cooling” technology, Weatherby said information from the Idaho National Laboratory showed the only such plant in existence is a small, 48MW plant built a generation ago in Siberia.

Questioners also asked about Gillispie’s long-repeated claims his power will cost 1.7 cents a kilowatt, while studies for a similar 1,600MW plant in Florida place the cost at about 30 cents.

Given the exorbitant costs of nuclear power, many attendees Tuesday wondered whether Elmore County and other counties in Idaho wouldn’t benefit instead from developing home-grown renewable energy resources. “Owyhee County itself could power the state times two with just wind; same in Elmore County,” Weatherby said. “On top of that, we have great geothermal resources.” Alliance Clean Energy Program Director Ken Miller said the two new wind farms northeast of Mountain Home will begin generating about 40MW of power this month, with huge amounts of wind potential still undeveloped. “And unlike nuclear power plants, wind farms don’t require evacuation plans,” Miller said.
On the question of water, many Elmore County residents active in farming and ranching challenged Gillispie’s claims that he has secured adequate water rights to cool his massive nuclear plant. Records show the property parcel Gillispie plans to use is 1,280 acres – not the 4,000 acres he has claimed in his meetings. Furthermore, state water records for that parcel show it comes with 23.67 cubic feet per second – but the period of use is from March 15 through November 15. That means the property has no water use associated with it for about four months out of the year. In addition, the current water use category is for irrigation, domestic and stock watering. Should Gillispie seek to convert it into an industrial use (required for power production), he’ll need to seek a difficult change of use, which given the current state of the river’s over-allocation may prove difficult.

The Alliance’s Shipley then presented the cycle of uranium use in nuclear power, beginning with the toxic impacts of uranium mining; then the toxic impacts of milling the uranium into yellowcake; then the toxic impacts of uranium enrichment, such as that endorsed by Idaho legislators and Gov. Butch Otter through the proposed Areva enrichment plant near Idaho Falls; then to fuel production and use in power plants; and then the inevitable mountain of spent nuclear fuel – the waste for which there will be no home for decades.

On other issues, one local resident asked about the professional credentials of the nuclear plant developers. Weatherby said the issue did not come up in Owyhee County, although after Gillispie claimed at the recent Glenns Ferry meeting that he graduated from MIT, Weatherby produced a fax from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology in which the registrar’s office said it could not locate records of his graduation.

Another resident said she heard Gillispie’s presentations and concluded, “I don’t find this a reasonable project. It seems another ploy to take Elmore County resources. I think we’ll be mined for our resources and become a dumping ground.”

Others challenged what continues to be a gaping hole in AEHI’s waste argument. Gillispie and his company continue to argue their Idaho waste will be “recycled” or “reprocessed” into more benign nuclear trash, when in fact no such technologies are being developed for commercial spent fuel in the United States. That means any waste generated by an AEHI plant in Elmore County will stay right where it was created – on the Snake River in some of Idaho’s prime farm country – for multiple generations.

Through the evening, residents asked penetrating and provocative questions – questions for which they unsuccessfully sought answers at the AEHI-sponsored hearings. And unlike at the raucous AEHI meetings, voices were not raised and questioners were not silenced. Nor, as in the case of the AEHI Glenns Ferry meeting, were they arrested and threatened with arrest for the simple act of distributing information to other attendees.

One resident summarized the sentiments of the others at the meeting when he said those concerned about the possibility of a nuclear power plant in their midst must demand accountability from their local officials. “This is an election year,” he said, adding Elmore County voters should demand candidates for county commission or P&Z answer a simple question: “Are you for it or against it?” That’s quickly shaping up as a pivotal question in the coming general election in Elmore County.

For more information on how to contact local authorities, go to the “Action Alerts” section on this page and then to the “Oppose the Nuclear Power Plant in Elmore County” link.