Proposed Pueblo power plant debate spills over into third night

Proposed Pueblo power plant debate spills over into third night

Not surprising in the midst of an ongoing nuclear power plant disaster in Japan, much of the heated opposition to a proposed reactor in Pueblo the last two nights has reportedly focused on safety and fallout in the event of a meltdown.

The Pueblo Chieftain reported more than 500 people, most of them opponents, came out to a Pueblo County commissioners meeting Wednesday night to express their fears about possibly being home to Colorado’s first active nuclear reactor since Fort St. Vrain in Platteville, east of Longmont, was shut down in 1992 and later converted to a natural gas plant.

In fact, so many people came out to speak during the hearings to address a zoning request to accommodate the facility that the commissioners had to continue the meeting until 5 tonight. The Denver Post, however, put the crowd closer to 300.

The first meeting Tuesday night focused on the 24,000-acre clean energy park proposed by local attorney Don Banner, who admits he doesn’t have funding in place but hopes to attract investors for the facility, which would cost at least $5.5 billion for a 3,000-megawatt nuclear plant. Banner also proposes wind and solar on the site, but he stirred controversy Tuesday by reportedly downplaying the effects of the Chernobyl nuclear plant meltdown in the Ukraine in 1986.

Nuclear power has emerged as one of the possible solutions to global climate change, with politicians on both the left and the rights touting the carbon-free benefits of nuclear power compared to coal. Democratic Sen. Mark Udall has taken up the nuclear power torch more than most in recent years, but he told the Denver Post today that all forms of power come with risks that must be mitigated.

“[The Japan disaster] brings up a new level of concern that we all must weigh heavily as we consider our future energy challenges,” Udall told the Post. “As the United States continues to develop its comprehensive energy policy, the tragedies of the past year, including the gulf oil spill and the West Virginia coal mine explosion, show us that we need to continue to do everything possible to ensure that energy production is safe and secure.”

In some ways Pueblo is an ideal location for a nuclear power plant. It’s not located on an earthquake-prone coastline along the Pacific Rim’s seismically volatile Ring of Fire. The worst potential natural disaster a Pueblo facility would face is a blizzard, a tornado or a wildfire.

But nuclear power is very capital-intensive on the front end and consumes the most water of any of the thermoelectric technologies once a plant is up and running, according to recent studies conducted at Harvard and Virginia Tech. Natural gas consumes the least amount of water in that category. Renewable forms of energy such as wind and solar are the least water-consumptive forms of energy, which is critical in an arid state such as Colorado.

Opponents of Banner’s plan pointed out that he has not secured the necessary water for a new nuclear facility in Pueblo.

Colorado is seen more as a front-end source for the uranium needed to make fuel rods for nuclear power plants. With the push for a nuclear renaissance in the United States and some 65 new nuclear plants in the planning stages or actually under construction around the world, new uranium mines and mills have been proposed and in some cases approved across Colorado.

The unfolding disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in Japan could seriously dampen the appetite for new nuclear power plants, thus curtailing uranium prices that would make Colorado mining and milling operations more attractive.

Energy Fuels President and CEO Stephen Antony in early February told The Colorado Independent that uranium prices would dictate his ability to find investors for the first new uranium mill in Colorado in more than 30 years.

“Of course it’s contingent on raising the capital in the market to fund the mill,” he said. “We’ve always said that; that’s no different either. [Uranium] is $73 a pound and forecasted to still moderately increase. We don’t know where it’s going to end. All that does is increase our chances for funding.”

Uranium prices as of March 14 were down $6.75 from the previous week to $60 a pound. Since the end of February the price of uranium has dropped from just under $70 a pound.

Another strike against nuclear power is the storage of spent nuclear fuels rods, which remain highly radioactive after they’re no longer producing power. The New York Times reports the spent fuel rods still onsite in Japan are now a bigger problem than the stricken reactors.

Editor’s note: David O. Williams will briefly discuss the implications of the Japanese nuclear disaster for Colorado and the United States as a whole on the PBS television show “Colorado State of Mind” Friday at 7:30 p.m. The majority of the show focuses on the Denver mayoral race.

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About the Author

David O. Williams

is an award-winning reporter who has covered energy, environmental and political issues for years. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Denver Post. He's founder of Real Vail
and Real Aspen.

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