The nuclear option

Chuck DeVore, Republican Assembly member from Irvine, wants to bring nuclear power back to California.

His Assembly Bill 719, titled the “California Zero Carbon Dioxide Emission Electrical Generation Act of 2007,” would lift California’s ban on the construction of new nuclear power plants in the state. DeVore, who voted against the sweeping anti-global warming law AB 32 in 2006, is arguing that the state need nukes to fight greenhouse gases.

The ban on new nuclear plants has been in place since the 1980s, in response to the concerns over the safety of nuclear power and the problem of storing nuclear waste.
Under state rules, there can be no new nuclear power plant construction until there’s “a demonstrated technology or means for the disposal of high-level nuclear waste.”

The nuclear industry and advocates of nuclear power have pinned their hopes on Yucca Mountain, a proposed long-term nuclear waste storage facility in Nevada, to be that solution.

But environmental concerns and the rise of Nevada Senator Harry Reid as majority leader of the U.S. Senate make the opening of Yucca Mountain anything but a sure bet.

DeVore says the state has gotten itself into a bind. We want affordable, reliable electricity. But we also want to go after dirty power, and make deep cuts in our use of coal and other fossil fuels, which spew carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.

“These goals aren’t necessarily in conflict if we can get a nuclear power plant on line,” DeVore told Capitol Weekly. “You can’t run an electrical grid on good intentions.”

Today, four nuclear power plants–two at San Onofre and two at Diablo Canyon–provide about 14 percent of the state’s electricity supply.
DeVore said its time for the state to lift the ban on nuclear construction, with or without Yucca Mountain. It would be a decade before any new facility generated spent fuel rods or other waste. DeVore believes Yucca Mountain could be on line by then. If not, he says plants can store their waste on site–just as they do now–until the storage problem is solved.

Aside from whether the state would allow new nuclear construction–who’s going to let a company build a plant in their back yard?

Maybe Fresno, said DeVore, noting that a consortium of businessmen calling themselves the Fresno Nuclear Energy Group have been pushing for a plant in their community. The mayor of the desert community of Victorville in San Bernardino County, has also promoted a nuclear power plant in his town for economic development reasons, said DeVore.

But Bill Magavern, a lobbyist with the Sierra Club, doesn’t think DeVore’s bill has a chance.

“Not with the popular opposition to nuclear power, and not with the Legislature’s recognition that it’s not a viable solution,” Magavern said, arguing that there are “much cheaper, safer and quicker ways to reduce global-warming pollution.”

DeVore counters that even some ardent environmentalists are rethinking their opposition to nuclear power in the face of rising concern about greenhouse gases. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last month said that nuclear power “needs to be on the table.”
The Senate Energy Committee is planning to hold a hearing on the viability of nuclear energy sometime in June, at the behest of Committee vice chairman Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga.

And DeVore predicts the requirements of AB 32 and other anti-greenhouse-gas laws will lead to higher electric bills for California residents. Renewables are still expensive and their capacity limited.

“I represent areas like Newport Beach and Irvine,” said DeVore. “Maybe they can afford to pay more if they want to. But that’s not the majority of people in the state. How do working class people pay these higher bills?”

But, for now, DeVore acknowledges that his bill has little chance of making it out of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee alive.

“It’s really an educational campaign,” said DeVore.

Contact Cosmo Garvin at

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