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State committee weighs expanded nuclear power

October 26, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
As the state of California works to make a shift toward a clean energy future, the future of nuclear power is coming into question. It's a debate that's has politicians, the energy industry and environmentalists already butting heads.California's own strict global-warming law mandating severe reductions in greenhouse gas emissions is forcing the state to look at where it gets its electricity.

Since coal-fired power plants pollute too much, some lawmakers think it may be time to reconsider a much cleaner option that has virtually zero emissions: nuclear power.

"There are people out there who suggest that the only way we can achieve the goals that we've laid out for California is to have nuclear energy play a part of our future," said state Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima). "We shouldn't take it off the table."

The state already has two nuclear plants, Diablo Canyon and San Onofre, that generate about 15 percent of the overall energy portfolio statewide.

California cannot move ahead with any more nuclear plants until it lifts its moratorium that has been in place for decades.

"This Legislature might entertain changing the requirement," said state Senator Rod Wright (D-Inglewood).

A legislative committee began examining the pros and cons of getting rid of the ban in order to expand nuclear power.

Noted experts testified how much safer nuclear power is these days, and that renewable sources like wind and solar won't be able to keep up with California's population growth and reduce emissions at the same time.

"Nuclear-generated electricity can make a contribution to this goal because it is cost-effective compared to most others," said Stanford University professor Burt Richter, a Nobel Laureate.

But there's the issue of waste and what to do with it. The state's plants store it on-site in airtight containers.

Environmentalists still worry about the risks given some high-profile accidents outside California and the multi-billion-dollar price tag that comes with building another plant.

"We should be looking at energy efficiency, renewables, and other power sources before we look at reviving the dinosaur of new nuclear plants," said Jim Metropulos, a legislative representative for the Sierra Club.


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