Nuclear power, unpopular in many circles for the past four decades, may be making a comeback in California.
It doesn't appear nuclear power will benefit the Lodi-Galt area, however; at least not anytime soon.
The Sacramento Municipal Utility District, for instance, shut down its Rancho Seco nuke plant after voters ordered its closure in 1989. It has no interest in nuclear power at this point, especially now that Rancho Seco was fully decommissioned last year, according to SMUD spokeswoman Dace Udris.
And furthermore, California has had a moratorium on constructing new nuclear power plants since 1976, at least until the issue of safe disposal is addressed. The U.S. gets about a fifth of its electricity from nuclear power, but no new nuclear plant has been built in nearly three decades.
And momentum for new nuclear plants has picked up. Backers say the production of electricity without any emissions of greenhouse gases outweigh potential problems. President Barack Obama announced $8 billion in loan guarantees recently for two reactors to be added in Georgia, an investment he says is necessary to provide electricity from cleaner sources of energy than traditional fossil fuels.
"I give him credit for putting the issue on the table to see how the public responds," said Lodi City Councilman Larry Hansen, who represents the city on the Northern California Power Agency board and currently serves as board chairman.
Giant costs for adding nuclear power have proven to be a drag on utilities, which say the loan guarantees are the only way to get projects off the ground. Reactors can run $6 billion to $8 billion apiece. That tops the market cap of some of the utilities that have wanted to build them.
Officials at the Northern California Power Agency, a coalition of cities and utility districts including Lodi, don't see nuclear energy in its future.
"We certainly don't have it in our portfolio right now," said power agency Assistant General Manager Jane Cirrincione.
Some supporters, including leading nuclear power advocate Chuck DeVore, a Republican assemblyman from Irvine who hopes to oust Barbara Boxer from the U.S. Senate, say they doesn't see enough support — either from the Legislature or the ballot box — to construct any new nuclear plants in California.
However, a group in Fresno is teaming with an international firm called AREVA to build one or two nuclear reactors in an agricultural area west of Fresno near Mendota. John Hutson, president and CEO of Fresno Nuclear Energy Group, says he hopes they have an application on file with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission within a year-and-a-half.
Hutson sees the Fresno-area nuclear plant as a boon for the economically depressed area. And he sees people from as far as Lodi applying for construction jobs if the Fresno group gets the green light to build.
"The public would feel safer with nuclear power plant in the Central Valley," Hutson said. "We don't have the same conditions other places have. We pretty much have seismic stability and plenty of room."
Hutson quoted a study on the proposed Fresno-area plant that said it would generate 17,000 jobs and associated jobs from construction. And if the group builds two plants, the project would generate 600 to 800 good-paying jobs, Hutson said.
The recycled water used at the nuclear plant could come from Fresno's wastewater plant, he added.
Nuclear energy at a glance— There are 104 commercial nuclear reactors with operating licenses at 64 sites in 31 states.
— There are 439 commercial nuclear reactors in 30 countries.
— Nuclear energy provides about 20 percent of the United States' electricity.
— Six states have nuclear power as the largest percentage of their electricity: Vermont (73.7 percent), South Carolina (51.2 percent), New Hampshire (46 percent), Illinois (47.8 percent), New Jersey (49 percent) and Connecticut (45 percent).
— In 2007, approximately 15 percent of worldwide electricity was generated from nuclear reactors. Countries generating the largest percentage of their electricity from nuclear energy were France, 76.8 percent; Lithuania, 64.4 percent; Slovakia 54.3 percent; and Belgium, 54 percent.
Source: Nuclear Energy Institute
Local thoughts on nuclear powerRep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton:
"We'll need to explore a variety of sources for this energy, including wind, solar, biofuels and nuclear. However, the development of nuclear power must be safe, economically feasible, and the issue of waste disposal should be addressed before moving ahead with any large-scale projects."
State Sen. Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto:
Supports nuclear power as a realistic, environmentally friendly and affordable option, according to spokeswoman Sabrina Lockhart.
Assemblywoman Alyson Huber, D-El Dorado
Huber was focused on budget votes and educational issues Thursday, so she didn't have any comment on nuclear power, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Wonnacott.
Jack Sieglock, Republican candidate for 10th Assembly
"Everything needs to be on the table. We need to see what's the most cost-effective way to keep electrical prices down. The science is there to make things safe today. We shouldn't have some arbitrary-type bans."
Larry Hansen, Lodi City Councilman:
(Represents Lodi on Northern California Power Agency board)
"I have mixed feelings. Nuclear power is expensive. It is prohibited in California. We do not have a lot of options, and we're told that this country's need for electricity is going to double in the next two or three decades."
Taj Khan, Lodi:
(Managed nuclear and mechanical engineering at Rancho Seco Nuclear Power Plant)
"The U.S. doesn't have any option but to build nuclear plants. Coal and oil and gas emit carbon dioxide, which contributes to global warming. The whole world is moving toward something that doesn't include carbon dioxide. I think the whole world has to return to nuclear power."
President Obama speaks about nuclear powerRemarks by President Barack Obama on energy to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 26 in Lanham, Md., Feb. 16
"We'll be in big trouble by 2030 if we don't get more electrical power," Hutson said.
Lodi resident Taj Khan, a retired manager at the Rancho Seco nuclear power plant, acknowledges that building nuclear plants can be an expensive proposition.
"But if you look at the alternative — the cost of global warming — I don't know where else you're going to go," Khan said. "Wind, solar and biomass are pretty much limited."
California still has nuclear power plants at two locations — Diablo Canyon, operated by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. in San Luis Obispo, and San Onofre in northwestern San Diego County, just south of San Clemente. San Onofre is jointly owned by Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric, and the city of Riverside.
Diablo Canyon and San Onofre are allowed to operate because those plants were built prior to the 1976 moratorium.
Meanwhile, some states, including Minnesota and Wisconsin, are conducting legislative hearings to consider lifting the moratorium in those states, according to Steve Kerekes, a spokesman for the Nuclear Energy institute.
"We feel there will be increasing support," Kerekes said. "The catalyst is to look closer at our technology. If they start studying some of the advantages, they will recognize there is an important role for it in our society."
DeVore, the Irvine assemblyman, said he has sponsored five bills in the last four years, but none of them got the Legislature's support. Last year, DeVore authored a bill that would lift the moratorium on a one-time basis that may have paved the way for the Fresno project, but it died in the Assembly Natural Resources Committee.
Other ways to get a nuclear plant built in California, DeVore said, include a ballot initiative, or using American Indian lands because they are a sovereign nation.
DeVore tried the ballot initiative process two years ago, but he withdrew it because polls indicated there may not be enough support to pass the initiative.
"You need somebody with a vision to move forward to break the logjam," DeVore said.
DeVore doesn't see a short-term support for nuclear power plants, but new ones are bound to be constructed at some point.
"Eventually, the pressing need for reliable, affordable, low-emission electricity will intrude," DeVore said. "The light at the end of the tunnel will be a nuclear power light."