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Pueblo County, Colo. nuclear plant plan to draw scrutiny after Japan disaster

The Pueblo County Commissioners Tuesday and Wednesday will hold hearings on a proposed clean energy park southeast of the city that a local attorney wants to see contain a 3,000-megawatt nuclear power plant.

That proposal, first floated in July, was sure to draw big crowds and heated debate both evenings beginning at 5 p.m. in the Jackson Ballroom of the Sangre de Cristo Arts & Conference Center, but in the wake of partial meltdowns at two Japanese nuclear reactors and problems at two other facilities in the wake of Friday’s devastating earthquake, the proposal will likely bring even closer scrutiny. The Japan disaster has sent shockwaves through the world’s resurgent nuclear industry that could impact Colorado’s uranium-mining revival.

The Pueblo County Planning Commission already signed off on the plan, voting 5-3 to recommend zoning changes that would allow for the 40-square-mile energy park proposed by local attorney Don Banner and supported by Puebloans for Energizing Our Community LLC.

“The world needs energy,” Banner told the Pueblo Chieftain in July. “The United States is behind the eight ball when it comes to nuclear energy.”

Actually, the United States leads the world with 104 nuclear reactors, nearly twice as many as second-place France (58). But as a percentage of electrical power, the U.S. only gets about 20 percent from nuclear compared to nearly 80 percent for France.

Colorado has no active nuclear power plants, and many conservationists say nuclear is too pricey (Banner’s plant could cost more than $5.5 billion) and consumes too much water in a mostly arid state like Colorado. Now they’re likely to hammer even harder on safety concerns that have made the U.S. nuclear industry relatively dormant since the Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania in 1979 and the Chernobyl meltdown in the Ukraine in 1986.

The Heritage Foundation points out that the technology at the nuclear plants in trouble in Japan is older and far less efficient and safe than today’s designs, but according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, there are 23 General Electric Mark 1 reactors like the Fukushima Daiichi Unit 1 that are currently operating in the United States.

Rep. Edward Markey, D–Mass., on Saturday warned that a disaster such as the one unfolding in Japan could happen here in the United States and called for a moratorium on locating any new reactors in seismically active areas as well as tighter NRC regulation of containment technology for facilities in such areas. Pueblo and Colorado in general are not known as particularly earthquake-prone areas.

“As a result of this disaster, the world is now facing the looming threat of a possible nuclear meltdown at one of the damaged Japanese nuclear reactors,” Markey said Saturday. “I hope and pray that Japanese experts can successfully bring these reactors under control and avert a Chernobyl-style disaster that could release large amounts of radioactive materials into the environment.”

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