COLUMBIA — On the same day that a panel of nuclear energy proponents discussed the benefits of nuclear power, AmerenUE announced that it would suspend plans to build a second reactor at the Callaway plant.
AmerenUE suspended its plans Thursday to build an estimated $6 billion nuclear power plant in Callaway County.
Timothy Hermann, vice president of engineering at AmerenUE, discussed the decision at the Missouri Energy Summit held Thursday at MU. Hermann said that the project was pulled from the Missouri legislature's floor because the legislature has not been able to reach a decision on a bill that AmerenUE could support.
Hermann cited a filibuster in the Missouri Senate and the economic downturn as reasons why the project was put on hold indefinitely.
Meanwhile, at the summit, the panel of nuclear proponents discussed benefits of nuclear power, including its relative safety, waste manageability and low cost.
"Nuclear energy is actually the least expensive way in the United States to produce electricity in large quantities," said William H. Miller, professor of nuclear science and engineering at MU.
Miller said 74 percent of Americans are now in favor of nuclear energy, up from 50 percent in 1980. He said one reason the public is more comfortable with nuclear energy now is that no major nuclear accidents have taken place lately. But Miller thinks it's important for the industry not to become complacent.
"I think it's very important that we continue to pay attention to safety," Miller said. "We need to keep doing a good job training our students to pay attention to safety to keep the standards high."
Hermann said it would be up to the state to handle the public reaction to the announcement and decide what the future holds for Missouri power sources. In June 2010, the state will complete a process that will assess future power needs, including nuclear power. Hermann said he thinks nuclear energy will continue to show itself as the least costly energy option.
In addition to the bill regarding the second plant, AmerenUE's chief executive officer also requested that legislators withdraw a Senate bill that company officials have supported since January that would allow AmerenUE to raise electric rates to pay for financing plant construction. That bill and a similar measure considered in the House have become major issues this legislative session, but neither proposal has received a final vote on either the House or Senate floor after months of debate.
When asked if AmerenUE would continue its efforts to obtain a federal license for the facility, a company spokeswoman said Ameren was in discussions with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the agency to which the company applied for the license.
In 1976, Missouri voters passed a Construction Work in Progress law, which bans funding construction by raising consumer rates.
Ameren CEO Tom Voss has said consumer rate increases are essential to financing a second nuclear facility. According to Voss, rate increases would have ranged from 10 percent to 12 percent during the construction phase of the plant and would have stabilized or decreased once it was operational.
AmerenUE spokesman Mike Cleary said Thursday that the St. Louis-based company — Missouri's largest electric provider — decided to suspend plans for the Callaway 2 facility because the current version of the legislation doesn't guarantee the work in progress law as a means of financing the plant.
"The legislation would no longer do what it was initially intended to do, and there didn't seem to be any opportunity for compromises that would restore what we consider to be essential in that bill, and so we had no choice really than to ask the sponsors to withdraw the bills from consideration," he said.
As of the end of March, AmerenUE had spent $75 million on the plant, another company official said.
The bill's original sponsor, Sen. Delbert Scott, R-Lowry City, said groups opposed to the legislation failed to form a unified opposition, making compromise difficult.
"We could never really get the opponents to identify what they were against," he said Thursday. "It was more of a bigger concept, and I think that varied from opponent to opponent."
John Coffman, a lobbyist for the Consumer Council of Missouri and AARP, said that because AmerenUE was unwilling to budge regarding any components of the legislation, no middle ground could be reached.
"Each of those consumer groups (opposing the bill) made significant offers of compromise," he said, but also acknowledged that the opposition was varied.
Prior to a substitute bill being offered by Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, the proposal was heavily criticized for lacking certain consumer protections.
In response to Thursday's announcement, Schaefer said he'd like to see the issue of nuclear power come up again even if AmerenUE was not the company pursuing plant construction.
"I think the 4,000 high-paying jobs — mostly union construction jobs — that we would have seen over seven years for that project, I think it's unfortunate we're not going to see those," he said. "The single biggest thing anyone in (the state Capitol) could have done to reduce the carbon footprint of more Missourians than anything else would be to build this plant."
Gov. Jay Nixon spokesman Scott Holste said the governor had been supportive of building a second power plant in Missouri but wanted AmerenUE to secure a license before trying to fund construction with ratepayer money.
Cleary said AmerenUE isn't ruling out its plans to construct a nuclear plant one day, but he said he isn't sure when that might happen.
"You never say never," he said. "I mean, conceivably, something could happen at some point in the future that could impact that."