Panel rejects bill to lift nuclear ban
Assembly committee vote doesn’t deter Fresno group.
By E.J. Schultz / Bee Capitol Bureau
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An Assembly committee on Monday rejected a bill to lift California’s ban on nuclear power plants, as backers of a proposed Fresno plant said they might take their case directly to the state’s voters.
As expected, Democrats on the Assembly Natural Resources Committee voted against the measure, siding with environmentalists who raised concerns about storing radioactive waste and nuclear weapons proliferation.
Assembly Bill 719 failed 3-6, with the three yes votes coming from Republicans.
Assembly Member Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine, had pitched the bill as a way to help increase the state’s electricity supply while complying with new restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions. Nuclear power plants produce few greenhouse gas emissions, the leading man-made cause of global warming.
The bill would have boosted efforts by a group of Fresno business leaders seeking to build a $4 billion, 1,600-megawatt nuclear reactor in Fresno.
But project supporters said they weren’t disappointed because they had nothing to do with DeVore’s effort.
“It came [as] unexpected to us that this was even proposed in the first place, so we don’t look at it as a setback at all — we will continue to move forward,” said John Hutson, president and chief executive of the Fresno Nuclear Energy Group.
Bypassing lawmakers, the group has been considering launching an effort to lift the ban with a ballot measure, he said.
About 13% of the state’s electricity supply comes from nuclear power, including two California plants. But a state law passed in 1976 prohibits the construction of plants until the federal government finds a way to dispose of high-level nuclear waste.
The most-discussed proposal is a repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, but the project has been plagued by delays.
DeVore, who vowed to re-introduce the bill next year, said the state’s portfolio of electricity options will continue to narrow — and grow more costly — as more environmental controls are put in place.
“You can’t power an electrical grid on good intentions,” he said.
Greenhouse gas legislation that passed last year calls for reducing emissions by 25% by 2020. Another law prohibits utilities from entering into long-term contracts with coal-fired power plants.
Last week, the State Lands Commission rejected a proposed liquefied natural gas facility off the Southern California coast, which supporters said was needed to keep up with energy demands.
About 16% of the state’s electricity supply comes from coal and 42% comes from natural gas, according to a recent report by the California Energy Commission.
Opponents of DeVore’s bill said lifting the ban is premature.
“Nuclear technology is the most dangerous technology on earth,” said Daniel Hirsch, president of the Committee to Bridge the Gap, an anti-nuclear group. “We haven’t solved the waste problem, [and] we haven’t solved the proliferation problem.”
Anti-nuclear activists worry that materials from nuclear plants could fall into the wrong hands and be turned into weapons, or that terrorists might attack a plant.
Environmentalists testifying Monday also pointed to cost overruns that plagued existing plants. Construction of the Diablo Canyon plant exceeded the $320 million estimate, according to the energy commission.
A better solution, environmentalists said, is to invest in alternative energy like wind and solar power.
Proponents of the Fresno plant would face a divided public if they are able to get an initiative on the ballot. Of likely voters, 46% support new nuclear plants and 46% oppose them, according to a July poll by the Public Policy Institute of California.
The Fresno Nuclear Energy Group is doing its own polling on the issue and is expected to reach a decision soon on the best way to move forward, Hutson said.
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