Politician pushes nuclear power
By E.J. Schultz / Bee Capitol Bureau
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SACRAMENTO — Thwarted in the Legislature, a Republican Assembly member is pursuing a ballot initiative to lift the state’s decades-old ban on nuclear power plants — and if he’s successful, it could clear the way for a plant in Fresno.
Assembly Member Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine, filed the initiative this week. He is shooting for the June ballot but will first need to collect about a half-million signatures, an effort that will cost at least $2 million, according to the going rate.
DeVore has the backing of a group of Fresno business leaders who are seeking to build a $4 billion, 1,600-megawatt nuclear reactor in Fresno. But the group — Fresno Nuclear Energy Group LLC — has not determined how much they might spend on what would be an expensive ballot campaign.
John Hutson, the group’s leader, said spending decisions will be made based on the results of a voter opinion poll the group expects to complete this month.
“At that point see how aggressive we’ll become,” he said.
Members of Fresno Nuclear Energy include Al Smith, president and chief executive of the Fresno Chamber of Commerce, and Bob Smittcamp, president of a Fresno-based beverage and canned-fruit company.
Proponents would likely face a divided public and would probably have to deal with opposition from anti-nuclear groups and some environmentalists.
Of likely voters, 46% support new nuclear plants and 46% oppose them, according to a poll taken about a year ago by the Public Policy Institute of California.
About 13% of the state’s electricity supply comes from nuclear plants, according to a report last year by the California Energy Commission. Two of the plants are in California: San Onofre in Southern California, co-owned by Southern California Edison, and Diablo Canyon in San Luis Obispo County, owned by Pacific Gas & Electric Co.
But a state law passed in 1976 prohibits new plants until the federal government finds a way to dispose of high-level nuclear waste.
The most-discussed proposal, a repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, has been plagued by delays and political opposition.
DeVore pushed legislation earlier this year to lift the ban, but the bill failed its first committee test. Democrats sided with environmentalists who raised concerns about storing radioactive waste.
David Weisman, outreach coordinator of the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility, an anti-nuclear group, said DeVore’s proposal still does not address the waste problem.
“Does his initiative address the very reason for the moratorium?” he asked. “The answer is no.”
DeVore says plants can get beyond the waste storage problem by reprocessing spent fuel. Nuclear opponents worry that reprocessing increases the risk that byproducts could fall into the wrong hands and be turned into weapons.
The emergence of global warming as a hot issue has given nuclear supporters some momentum. Unlike plants that burn fossil fuels, nuclear plants emit few greenhouse gases. Such gases trap heat in the atmosphere, causing global warming, according to scientists.
DeVore hopes to lure some environmental support, though most groups, like the Sierra Club, favor alternative energy like solar power. DeVore also hopes to get the backing of organized labor, which could benefit from construction jobs if new plants are built.
Pacific Gas & Electric, one of the largest energy companies in the state, does not yet have a position on the initiative.
Fresno Nuclear Energy Group says its proposal could bring thousands of well-paying jobs to the region. For the plant location, the group has targeted about 3,000 city-owned acres near Jensen Avenue in south Fresno, Hutson said.
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