Environment Iowa
Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier
Eric Nost

It has been one year since the plug was pulled on Waterloo's proposed coal-fired power plant. Building the plant would have been disastrous. In addition to fiscal and public health disasters, it would have emitted large amounts of carbon dioxide - a major contributor to global warming.

Iowa in particular stands to suffer from a changing climate as weather conditions will polarize. On the one hand, we will face warmer temperatures which could cause yield losses to the tune of $259 million a year from the corn crop alone (Hotter Fields, Lower Yields http://www.environmentiowa.org/uploads/nQ/mA/nQmAqifXYGlUc5olYQw7nA/hotf...).

On the other hand, we stand to face heavy rainfalls that will increase river water levels like last year, erasing the notion of "100-year" floods.

Thankfully, political leaders are convinced action is necessary. Just recently, world leaders met in Copenhagen, Denmark, to hammer out a deal to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. The results of that meeting indicate stronger national commitments are necessary, especially from the United States.

Senators John Kerry, D-Mass., Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have offered a framework for such legislation. Among other ideas, their plan calls for massive government investment in nuclear power as a way to provide electricity while reducing carbon emissions.

However, Environment Iowa's analysis of investments in nuclear power concluded nuclear power is a wasteful, ineffective approach to the problem. It is a failing strategy that will actually set us back in the struggle to deal with a changing climate.

Iowa is home to only one nuclear plant - Duane Arnold Energy Center down the Cedar River at Palo - and no utility company has plans to build others. Even with legislation and subsidies, Mid-American or Alliant might not build more. Yet the fact of the matter is, either way, Iowa taxpayers would end up paying for plants in other parts of the country.

That's because the nuclear industry is looking for billions of dollars in direct subsidies and loan guarantees from the federal government in order to build 100 new reactors. The problem is that even if such subsidies were distributed tomorrow, it is likely that the first new reactor would not be finished until the end of this decade - the date by which, Nobel scientists tell us, we need to have reduced emissions 25 to 40 percent.

On these financial cost-benefit grounds alone it is enough to say that nuclear is the wrong choice, to say nothing of legitimate environmental and security concerns.

Instead of building new nuclear reactors and instead of building more coal-fired power plants, we need to transition to clean energy. Iowa stands to benefit immensely in doing so.

The U.S. is already building three nuclear reactors worth of wind energy a year and a good deal of that is represented in projects like Alliant's new wind farm in Franklin County ("Franklin County wind farm up and running" 12/12/09 http://www.wcfcourier.com/news/local/article_7585ea50-e72f-11de-86d4-001...).

These sort of projects have put Iowa second in the nation when it comes to wind energy production and have helped spawn a growing industry of manufacturers and installers in the state.

Native son Sen. Charles Grassley realizes the continued potential of clean energy here and should support legislation that increases the percent of electricity utilities produce with wind and solar. But Sen. Tom Harkin especially has stood up before to promoters of nuclear and we again expect his leadership in defeating wasteful, ineffective subsidies to the nuclear industry. Combating the effects of climate change with homegrown, renewable sources of energy like wind and solar, not nuclear, is a win-win for Iowans.