Nov. 27, 2007, 3:38PM
Okla.: Costs Make Nuclear Power Unlikely

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma power producers said Tuesday the high cost and lengthy construction time for a nuclear power plant make it unlikely they will turn to nuclear energy to meet rising consumer demand for power in the state.

John Wendling, director of power supply operations for Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co., said OG&E is the largest generator in the state with 6,200 megawatts of capacity but is still too small to afford the cost of a nuclear power plant, estimated by industry officials at between $5 billion and $6 billion.

"As an individual company, we're not big enough," Wendling told state lawmakers at a meeting of the House Energy and Technology Committee where producers and an official with the Washington, D.C.-based Nuclear Energy Institute discussed the future of nuclear energy in Oklahoma.

Wendling and representatives of other power producers said nuclear energy is one of many options they consider when deciding how to keep up with Oklahoma's growing demand for electric power. But licensing and construction of a nuclear power plant would take up to 10 years, too long to meet the demand producers will face in the next five years.

"Part of it is how long does it take to build the asset," Wendling said. "We need to be able to understand the risks."

Mike Kiefner, chief operating officer of the Grand River Dam Authority, said it may require the financial resources of all of Oklahoma's energy providers to afford the cost of a nuclear power plant.

Wendling also said energy providers need to educate the public about the safety and reliability of nuclear energy to overcome what he called "the Three Mile Island syndrome," a reference to the 1979 nuclear accident in Pennsylvania.

Following the meeting, an environmentalist, Jean McMahon of Fort Gibson, said she opposes nuclear energy, describing nuclear power plants as "extremely dangerous."

"They still have nowhere to store the waste," said McMahon, who wore a polar bear suit on which "No Nukes _ Solar Yes" was written on the front.

Last month, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission rejected a $1.8 billion, 950-megawatt coal-fired plant proposed by OG&E, Public Service Company of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Municipal Power Authority.

Public Service Company of Oklahoma is a subsidiary of American Electric Power.

The utilities said they needed the massive Red Rock plant to keep up with Oklahomans' growing appetite for energy. Using coal as a fuel would diversify their fuel mix and help keep consumer costs low.

"We're all concerned about power and the cost of power," commission Chairman Jeff Cloud told lawmakers. He said nuclear power is clean, reliable and inexpensive, but raising the issue "can be, no pun intended, politically radioactive."

Mike McGarey, director of state outreach for the NEI, said 104 nuclear reactors in the U.S. currently provide 20 percent of the nation's power. Nuclear power has the lowest production costs of any fuel and is the largest source of emission free electricity in the nation, McGarey said.

However, utilities have been reluctant to build new plants due to high construction costs, uncertainty over how to dispose of nuclear waste and a licensing process that costs hundreds of millions of dollars, Cloud said.

"That upfront cost has been a deterrent," Cloud said.

But demand for electricity nationally is expected to rise 45 percent by 2030, and nuclear power is one way to increase generating capacity, Cloud said.

"Other states are moving in that direction. Oklahoma is not in the game yet," Cloud said.

Oklahoma is one of 19 states that does not have a nuclear power plant, Cloud said. In the 1970s, PSO proposed the Black Fox nuclear power plant near Inola in eastern Oklahoma but abandoned it after a nine-year battle with opponents.

In the seven-state region that includes Oklahoma, nuclear plants are operating in Kansas, Arkansas, Missouri and Texas. Colorado and New Mexico also do not have nuclear plants.

In September a power producer in Texas, NRG Energy Inc., submitted the first application for a new nuclear reactor in the U.S. in nearly 30 years. NRG's application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is for two new units at its facility in Bay City, Texas, about 90 miles southwest of Houston.

Source: The Houston Chronicle