COLUMBIA – For the Columbia City Council, nuclear energy is a complex conversation with many details and opinions to weigh. And most say they want to be consulted before the mayor or city staff take an official stance on a proposed nuclear plant in Callaway County.
Mayor Darwin Hindman was the first to express his views when he sent a letter to AmerenUE President and CEO Thomas Voss expressing personal interest in the proposed construction of the second Callaway nuclear plant. The letter included that Hindman’s support also assumed that “power from the plant must be made available to Columbia.”
Check out the Watchword to read Hindman's letter.
Hindman views nuclear energy as a better alternative to Columbia’s municipal coal plant.
“I’m very concerned about climate change,” he said. “It’s clean (nuclear energy), so I favor it.”
He also expressed interest in alternative energies such as solar and wind but believes those alternatives aren’t capable of taking a leading role in the city’s energy production.
“I’m convinced that we will not be able to supply our base power that way,” Hindman said.
Hindman’s explicit opinion of nuclear energy and support of the second Callaway plant has struck a chord with some city council members but mostly because that opinion was expressed on city letterhead.
“I don’t have a disagreement with the position he expressed,” Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade said. “My concern is that with the letter being sent on city letterhead and under the title of mayor, he is representing an official position that should have been discussed with the council. The way the letter was done, it's representing more than just a personal opinion.”
Wade would like to have more information on how nuclear energy would be implemented before he can take a stance on the issue. Several years ago, Wade said, he was strongly opposed to nuclear power but now he has moderated his opposition.
First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz, Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala and Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe all had similar opinions of Hindman's letter, including that some sort of discussion should have taken place before it was sent.
“There are various procedural process concerns,” Hoppe said. “It needs to be a City Council discussion so every citizen is represented. I guess I feel rather strongly about that.”
For Sturtz, Skala and Hoppe, however, their opinions on nuclear energy itself aren't exactly congruous. Skala is open to the use of nuclear energy although he wants to avoid focusing too heavily on it.
"I'd rather have nuclear energy than use dirty coal technology," Skala said. "But I don't want to get stuck in the trap that we have to buy nuclear power because we didn't invest in clean technology. We are kind of in a bind here."
Hoppe, on the other hand, believes that there are a variety of problems with nuclear power and that those problems must be "analyzed and discussed and compared with other energy options."
Instead of nuclear, Sturtz would rather have the city put more effort into conservation and efficiency standards.
"Per capita in California, they are using about 50 percent of what we use (energy wise) and it's not just because of the good weather," Sturtz said. "We have a long way to go before we try something as expensive and risky as nuclear power."
Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser did not return phone calls Friday and Saturday.
Second Ward Councilman Chris Janku, who is not seeking re-election after his term ends this April, commented that it was OK for Hindman to express himself as an individual.
He also emphasized that if something concerning nuclear energy ever did reach the City Council, it would have to be in the form of an ordinance or resolution and the public would be able to express themselves.