July 10, 2008

Hundreds Turn Out for Info About Nuclear Plant


Hundreds of people last night packed an auditorium at Westminster College in Fulton for a meeting on AmerenUE's plans to apply for a permit to build a new $6 billion, 1,600-megawatt nuclear reactor unit at its existing plant in Callaway County.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission hosted the public event, the first of a series, to discuss the agency's review and licensing process for new nuclear reactors. Officials described it as opportunity to inform and educate the public about its safety and environmental and construction oversight during the estimated three- to four-year review process.

Michael Webb, reactor operations engineer for the NRC, said the St. Louis-based utility company has yet to submit its "combined operating license application" to the agency, which must first approve the design submitted by the France-based Areva Nuclear Power.

Tom Voss, president and chief executive officer for AmerenUE, said the utility company plans to submit its application to the NRC by August but will not make a final decision on whether to build the plant until at least 2010.

"We still haven't decided to build it yet," Voss said. "This is about keeping our options open." The company wants to make sure it is eligible for special federal tax incentives under the 2005 federal Energy Policy Act, he said.

Most of the people who spoke during last night's meeting were in favor of the proposed second reactor, and some cited the economic benefits generated over the almost 24 years since the original 1,190- megawatt plant was constructed.

Roy Brown, a small business owner from suburban St. Louis, said an additional reactor will not only help Missouri meet the increase in energy demand expected over the next 30 to 50 years, it will be a big employment generator. "I support nuclear power," Brown said. "It helps the local economy."

The proposed second Callaway reactor would be the single largest construction project in the state's history. AmerenUE estimates that 2,500 temporary jobs would be created during construction, expected to run between 2012 and 2018, and several hundred permanent jobs would be added to the plant's current workforce of more than 1,000.

Nuclear power opponents argued that the proposed second reactor is a step in the wrong direction. In a news conference before the meeting, renewable energy advocates and environmentalists labeled AmerenUE's plans as an expensive and dangerous technology.

"We cannot afford a nuclear reactor," said Mark Haim of the Columbia-based advocacy group Missourians for Safe Energy. "If we invest in efficiency and if we invest in renewable energy, we don't need nuclear."

Union Electric, which became AmerenUE, originally planned to build two nuclear reactors at Callaway but dropped plans for the second reactor after Missouri voters approved a "construction work in progress" law in 1976 that prohibited state utility companies from charging customers for the construction of a power plant before it is built.

AmerenUE officials said the first Callaway plant cost $3 billion, $1 billion of which were financing costs necessary because of the restrictions from the CWIP law. Without a change in the law, Ameren officials say, financing costs could push construction costs for the new reactor to $9 billion.

Voss said AmerenUE will begin working with legislators next year to try to rewrite the legislation to allow them to bill customers for construction costs as it goes. He said if the CWIP law remains in place, it could be a deal breaker for a second Callaway reactor.

But Haim and other opponents said reversing the CWIP law would be disastrous for consumers.

"It transfers the risk from the stockholders to the rate payers," Haim said. "It's unfair and it encourages over-building."

Reach Jordan Raubolt at (573) 815-1709 or [email protected]

Originally published by JORDAN RAUBOLT of the Tribune's staff.

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