House committee inquires about nuclear energy

OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA - A state House panel listened to the positive and negative aspects of nuclear energy plants recently.

Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, said the meeting before the House Energy and Technology Committee was a fact-finding hearing. He and Rep. Dennis Adkins, the committee's chairman, requested the interim study on the costs of nuclear energy.

Corporation Commission Chairman Jeff Cloud said 104 nuclear plants operate in 31 states, providing 20 percent of the nation's electricity to homes and businesses. Nuclear energy is reliable, cheap and safe, Cloud said. The down side to nuclear energy is that the plants are costly to build, require going through a lot of bureaucratic red tape and create the need to dispose of waste, he said.

By 2030, the nation will need 45 percent more electricity than it now uses, Cloud said.

He said there is a potential for 30 new nuclear plants by 2020.

"Oklahoma should consider diversifying its portfolio," Cloud said. Although the issue might be politically radioactive, a discussion can't hurt anyone, he said. Michael F. McGarey, manager of state programs for the Washington, D.C.-based Nuclear Energy Institute, a policy organization for the nuclear technologies industry, said nuclear energy is the largest source of emission-free electricity in the United States. He said nuclear energy does not experience the cost volatility that other industries see and that waste is safely stored on-site.

It takes as long as 3-1/2 years to get a plant approved and four more years to build, McGarey said. Mike Keifner, chief operating officer for the Grand River Dam Authority, said building a nuclear power plant would be very costly for the GRDA, but the agency is willing to partner with others. Once a facility is running, it is very economical, but it does have problems with waste disposal, Keifner said.

John Wendling, director of power supply operations for OG&E, said the company will need to find ways to produce energy in the next five years. Nuclear energy will not fit into that time frame, he said.

As an individual company, OG&E is not big enough to build a nuclear energy plant on its own, Wendling said. Adkins, R-Tulsa, noted that no one has proposed building a nuclear power plant in Oklahoma. He said utilities are showing an interest in the issue.

"The national trend is greener," Adkins said. "Like it or not, Oklahoma needs to get ready for greener."

The cost to build a nuclear power plant is more than $8 billion, he said.


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