Udall supports proposed Xcel nuclear plant for Colorado

DENVER– In an energy summit today held at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center here U.S. Sen. Mark Udall told reporters that he would support a plan floated by Xcel energy to build a nuclear power plant in Colorado. Udall said Xcel was proposing the plant as a part of a plan that would see Xcel, which provides most of the power in the state, become carbon neutral within the decade.

Sen. Mark Udall
Sen. Mark Udall

“The large investor-owned utility Xcel, which covers most of Colorado, has expressed an interest in becoming carbon neutral in the next ten years and part of their plan would include a nuclear power plant being constructed here in Colorado. I would of course welcome it under conditions that [Xcel] build it in a safe manner, that you have buy-in from the local communities and that it fits into our existing energy system.”

Although Udall attached a lot of qualifiers to his support, his backing the ambitious proposal comes as no surprise. Udall also promoted nuclear power as part of a clean energy future this summer at an “open hearing” he held on climate change at Rocky Mountain National Park with Sen. John McCain.

Udall is a strong proponent of the state’s New Energy sector and is seen as a friend to the green movement in the state, but his advancement of nuclear power has alarmed environmentalists, who see the risks posed by uranium mining and nuclear power plant construction as far outweighing any benefits to be derived in expanding the contemporary nuclear industry.

Keith Hay, former energy advocate for Denver-based Environment Colorado, has argued against the inclusion of nuclear power as a part of any clean-energy discussion. Hay told the Colorado Independent in May that there was “a strong push by southern Democrats to include nuclear and clean coal in the renewable energy standard” but that environmentalists thought any such tack was misguided at best.

“Anyone who has seen the front end of uranium mining for nuclear knows that it is in no way clean.”

Udall falls into a group of green leaders turned by the climate change debate into nuclear supporters. Nuclear power, as it comes out of a nuclear power plant at least, is carbon free and so does not contribute to global warming. But getting a nuclear power plant up and running is an energy-heavy enterprise that includes mining uranium. The carbon footprint is large.

The amount of cash required to get a plant online is also prohibitive and likely would require government assistance of one kind or another. Analysts estimate the cost of a single plant at $7.2 billion. And nuclear waste, of course, has to be stored. The projected cost of the proposed Yucca mountain disposal site in Nevada is $96.2 billion.

Citibank produced a report this month in which it warned off investors. The CitiBank authors (“New Nuclear: The Economics Say No”) dubbed the staggering costs associated with nuclear power as “corporate killers.”

Xcel nuclear plan for Colorado must also sound alarms for anyone concerned with the increasing demands on water in the state in particular and in the west more generally. Nuclear plants are built on the shores of major bodies of water because they require so much water to cool the waste. Udall didn’t say today where, on what lake or river, Xcel was planning to build its power plant.

Udall was speaking to the press together with U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu. The Secretary planned to visit the Vestas Wind Turbine Factory in Windsor with Fourth District Rep. Betsy Markey earlier in the day, part of a tour highlighting Recovery Act efforts and the progress made supporting the renewable energy sector.

Reported from the event by Joe Boven.

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