Iowa's Nuclear Challenge

Wayback Machine

Wayback Machine

Carolyn Heising doesn’t get it about nuclear power. Iowans don’t want more of it, and there is a nascent movement to shut down the Duane Arnold Energy Center in Palo for good when the ten-year extension of its license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) expires in 2024.

Heising, an engineering professor at Iowa State University, gets on her soapbox from time to time as she did in last week’s Des Moines Register. She drug out the same old sawhorses about the great potential of nuclear power. It is like a trip in the Wayback Machine to the Atoms for Peace days when there was an effort to harness the energy of nuclear chain reactions for civilian use. Atoms for Peace proved to be unsuccessful, and unsustainable over the long term, contrary to Heising’s assertions about recent developments.

The challenge of nuclear power in Iowa is how to eliminate it as a source of electricity in favor of a system that makes more sense. The environment for doing so is primed.

When MidAmerican Energy advanced their nuclear power study in the Iowa legislature, an unintended consequence for them was to create deep and diverse opposition to nuclear power in Iowa. As part of the campaign to stop nuclear power in Iowa, the BFIA history of it is worth considering here. We did stop MidAmerican Energy, but what we did then will not work going forward.

Unlike Ms. Heising, we can’t continue to drag out the same sawhorses.

Our loose coalition of people from every background and political outlook should pull for the long term. Specifically, we can’t beat the same drum of more conservation, more solar and wind, more research and development, and more storage capacity. Distributed generation is also an important part of the future, and some RECs now offer net metering. All of these tactics to meet electricity demand are known, and need some promotion. However, any campaign to stop new nuclear power generation must think outside the box: these jeremiads need to be retired in favor of something better.

A positive campaign to eliminate nuclear power must include a discussion of the legitimate concerns of the regulated utilities. Issues with regions, contracts, capital investments already made, and an established infrastructure must be acknowledged and dealt with. There is a lot for anti-nuclear power advocates to do on this front.

Projects like the Rock Island Clean Line can’t resolve the issues with regard to the grid and its related nodes, financial trading and diversity. Understanding the grid is complicated, and another one-off in a grid of one-off agreements doesn’t make sense for the future.

Ms. Heising has had her say, but the truth will out. Global warming has happened. Climate change is real. Burning coal and natural gas is a problem. Where the professor and I disagree is in developing an approach that involves users more directly in distributed generation, and excludes new nuclear power, coal and natural gas.

Mother Nature will let us know if we are proceeding fast enough to solve the climate crisis. A dalliance with nuclear power would be like Scarlett O’Hara asking, “where shall I go? What shall I do?” as Rhett Butler leaves. We know how that ended. We should also know there are better answers than more nuclear power.

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One Response to Iowa's Nuclear Challenge

  1. Steve Hanken says:

    I would agree the “old saw horses” don’t provide the answers to both nuclear and non-nuclear energy generation in the long term. However, when we throw out the old arguments on sustainability we don’t seem to throw out parts of the distribution grid that are failing and keep power in the hands of a narrow few. I tend to believe with modern methods and the ever improving technology we can reduce distribution grid lines by simply doing away with them. Anarchistic as it sounds, efficiencies are not found by taking excess power from one place and shipping it to another. Local power generation was part of the development routine for Iowa, and many localities yet today produce their own power to some degree. Power generation by efficient means and kept within the state, would make us the locality to go to for energy. If Chicago or St. Louis need more power they drain the grid for it, taking our power for themselves. If they had to generate any excess power they needed they would have to deal with the pollution of coal or nuclear dangers instead of grabbing the power and leaving the grid states to clean up there mess for the power they want. In terms of economic development, with excess power we would be in demand for development rather than giving that feature to Chicago.

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