No matter how much water it takes to cool a proposed nuclear power plant near Green River, Utah – the topic of thorny debate in an ongoing regulatory process — the specter of such a facility upwind and just 100 miles from the Colorado border is a necessary evil of energy independence, a Republican Utah congressman recently told the Colorado Independent.
“I subscribe to the all-of-the-above energy policy, which means nuclear should be a big part of our future, and the benefit of nuclear power is its green footprint,” freshman U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz said. “I recognize it comes with great risk, but if you’re serious about greenhouse gasses, then you should be a serious supporter of nuclear development.”
That sentiment echoes those of Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat, who has introduced a bill aimed a sparking a nuclear power revival in the United States despite serious trepidation about potential accidents and waste storage nightmares among both environmentalists and the general populace.
Nuclear power currently accounts for about 20 percent of the electricity in the United States (mostly on the East Coast), but following accidents at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania and Chernobyl in the Ukraine in the 1970s and 80s, no new nuclear plants have come online in the U.S. in decades.
Chaffetz wants to see 100 new nuclear plants built around the country in the coming years, and he’s confident technology can mitigate past contamination problems linked with mining and milling uranium – historically a big industry in far western Colorado and eastern Utah – as well as waste-storage issues associated with spent fuel rods.
Utah is currently embroiled in a storage controversy related to trainloads of depleted uranium from Cold War-era weapons production being stored at an Energy Solutions facility in Clive, Utah. And communities in Colorado have banded together to fight both a uranium mill proposal near Montrose and a uranium mine plan near Fort Collins.
New uranium claims have been filed across the West in anticipation of another nuclear power boom, as the industry finds more and more bipartisan support because of lower greenhouse gas emissions and a growing rep as an alternative to dirtier-burning coal, oil and natural gas. But opponents are concerned about impacts on national parks and other wild places and the risks of transporting yellowcake and nuclear waste across state lines.
Even though his Third Congressional District doesn’t include Green River or the historic uranium-mining hotbed of Moab, Chaffetz supports a statewide push to revive the industry. He said fears of increased mining impacting tourism in and around the state’s great national parks in southeastern Utah – a frequent recreation destination for Coloradans – are overblown.
“That’s a scare tactic that’s more rooted in hyperbole than it is reality,” he said. “The reality is we have borders for these national parks. These environmentalists argue there needs to be some big buffer zone, and I don’t buy into that. If we don’t want to be left beholden to the terrorist nations around the world, we’re going to have to get serious about nuclear development.”