New nuclear plants for Iowa, California?

29 April 2010

Developments in two US states could lead to the construction of new nuclear power plants. In Iowa, legislation has been passed to enable utilities to study building new power reactors, while in California Areva has firmed up its agreement to participate in a plant near Fresno.


The governor of Iowa has signed into law a measure which encourages utilities to conduct studies into the possible expansion of nuclear energy in the state. On 28 April, at the Des Moines offices of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Governor Chet Culver signed a bill which requires rate-regulated public utilities to undertake analyses of and preparation for the possible construction of nuclear power plants in Iowa.


The legislation calls for such studies to be conducted with only a limited cost to ratepayers and with the Iowa Utilities Board providing oversight. The bill also modifies existing law related to electricity generation and to switching existing coal-based plants to other fuel sources. Utilities will be able to enter into rate-making in order to pay for investments that may lead to lower carbon emissions from current plants. This, the governor said, "opens the door for plants to switch from coal to natural gas, add 'carbon capture' to existing plants, and add gas or biomass as a primary source of fuel for these plants."


On signing the bill, Culver commented: "This bill gives Iowa utilities and consumers more tools to make decisions on our energy future. The study will give us a clear idea of what the future for nuclear and alternative energies may hold in Iowa." He added, "From the $100 million Power Fund, to wind energy, to the Office of Energy Independence, we are building our own future in energy production, and the new energy economy can create good jobs with benefits for Iowans. We are proving that environmental protection and economic growth can and should be tied together."


In March 2010, the Iowa state Senate voted to allow utility MidAmerican Energy to increase electric consumer rates so that it can study the feasibility of constructing a nuclear power plant. A vote of 37-13 in favour has allowed a $4 per year increase in residential customers' electricity bills, with a $15 increase for commercial customers and $1100 for industrial customers. Over three years the additional funds, totalling $15 million, will be used by MidAmercian to finance a study into the feasibility of constructing a second nuclear power plant in the state.


MidAmerican had previously proposed constructing a nuclear power plant in Payette County, Idaho. However, in December 2007, it announced that it had decided not to proceed. At that time, the company said that its decision was "based on economic considerations and not on issues related to the suitability of the Idaho site."


There is currently only one nuclear power plant operating in Iowa: the single-unit Duane Arnold plant. The 600 MWe boiling water reactor (BWR) is majority owned and operated by NextEra Energy Resources (70%), while the Central Iowa Power Cooperative owns 20% and the Corn Belt Power Cooperative owns 10%. The reactor, which began operating in 1975, accounts for almost 10% of Iowa’s electricity generation, with the remainder primarily produced from coal-fired plants.


California dreaming


Meanwhile, in California - where a moratorium introduced in 1976 on new nuclear build is still in place - France's Areva has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Fresno Nuclear Energy Group (FNEG) to develop a "clean energy park" near Fresno. The MoU follows the signing a letter of intent to cooperate in December 2009. The park, in California's Central Valley, is eventually to include nuclear and renewable electricity generation.


Under the MoU, the two companies will work together on the site selection and initial development of a nominal 1600 MWe EPR reactor. The agreement also allows for the potential development of other Areva energy technologies, such as concentrated solar power.


In a statement, Areva and FNEG said that, once the site of the energy park has been selected, work will begin on the solar phase of the park.


Before a nuclear power plant can be built on the site of the park, the legislation banning the construction of such plants in California must first be removed. A bill to repeal this moratorium was voted down in April 2007, but may be reintroduced.


Researched and written

by World Nuclear News