Missouri lawmakers, Ameren continue plans for second Callaway plant

Tuesday, March 15, 2011 | 9:27 p.m. CDT; updated 7:18 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, March 16, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri lawmakers and Ameren Missouri have not given up on plans to pursue building a second nuclear power plant in Callaway County despite recent problems at a Japanese nuclear power plant.

Last week, a Senate committee heard testimony from both supporters and opponents of a second Callaway plant, just two days prior to a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that hit Japan, causing multiple explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Although the explosions have spotlighted potential dangers with nuclear plants, Ameren, the state's main utility provider, and its legislative supporters have not changed their stance on legislation that would help Ameren develop another nuclear plant.

Rick Eastman, Ameren's business operations supervisor, said Japan's problems with its nuclear reactors have not impeded his company's push to acquire the site permit needed to begin construction of a second plant in Callaway County.

Eastman also said Ameren has safety procedures in place to deal with emergency situations, including those caused by natural disasters, such as an earthquake or tornado. These precautions include steel-reinforced concrete walls, seismic sensors and backup generators, as well as the ability to shut down the plant if anything "out of the ordinary" is noticed. 

"If there is anything that might threaten the plant, the first step is to shut the reactor down," Eastman said.

Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, sponsor of a bill to secure the permit, agreed with Eastman. He said Missouri's energy future cannot be influenced by international events and that the option for nuclear power has to be left open.

"We have to continue to talk about what sources of energy we are going to get for this state," Kehoe said.

"The unfortunate incident in Japan has not changed the fact that coal is a very expensive source that is under attack from various groups from A to Z. 

"So the way we produce power in this state is, unfortunately, not going to be changed by what happens globally, and the demand for power in this state is going to continue to be there and continue to be a need that we need to address."

Eastman said the utility provider is waiting for the legislation to make its way through the General Assembly so the company can keep the option of building another plant open.

If the proposed legislation passes, it would allow Ameren to apply for an early site permit from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and charge its ratepayers an additional $2 for up to 20 years to pay for the construction of the new nuclear facility.

"No decision to build a second plant has been made; the whole legislation regarding the site permit is simply to keep the option open, as we continue to look at what's the best thing to do for Missouri's energy future," Eastman said.

"If we were to push forward with approved site permit legislation and Ameren Missouri were to file for an application (to build a plant), part of what we would use the three-year NRC review time for is to look at all of the various technologies."

Kehoe said despite general safety concerns, strict safety standards in this country would make any nuclear plants that Ameren would build sufficiently safer than the Fukushima plant in Japan, which was built in 1967.

So far, the plant has suffered three explosions that severely damaged three reactors and caused a fire in a fourth.

After Friday's earthquake and ensuing tsunami, the Fukushima plant's cooling systems failed. That caused the fuel rods' temperature to increase rapidly, cracking the protective casings around the fuel in the rods.

Once the casings were damaged, Japanese officials reportedly believe the fuel came into contact with the steam and released hydrogen gas, which was then vented out of the reactors and led to the explosions.

The Fukushima Unit 1 uses a boiling water reactor, in which the water that cools the fuel rods boils, turns to steam and rotates turbines to generate electricity. Because the water making up this steam directly passes through the core of the reactor, a greater amount of the plant is likely to be exposed to radiation.

According to a report released by the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, a nuclear energy information and watchdog group, there are 23 similar reactors in the United States — including four in Illinois — based on a similar design, known as the General Electric Mark 1.

Unlike these reactors, Ameren's current Callaway plant is a pressurized water reactor, which separates the coolant water from the steam turbine system, reducing the risk of radioactive contamination.

"It would be irresponsible for someone to say there are no safety concerns," Kehoe said. "There are always safety concerns when you build any kind of project ... I think the facilities that we would go forward with would be engineered through the early site permit process to withstand any possible acts of nature that we could have."

At Friday's committee hearing, Ameren Missouri CEO Warner Baxter promoted the benefits of a potential second Callaway plant in front of the Senate committee.

"(A site permit) gives us the opportunity to access federal incentives, which can save our customers money," Baxter said at the hearing. "Certainly there is no doubt that a nuclear plant could present a great economic development opportunity by creating thousand of clean energy jobs and hundreds, if not more, permanent jobs in the future."

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Ellis Smith March 16, 2011 | 7:48 a.m.

Some of us are waiting for a spate of commentary and letters damning the building of additional nuclear electric power plants.

Fine, don't build them. Better yet, if these facilities are such an anathema, why not lobby for SHUTTING DOWN ALL THE EXISTING PLANTS?

After all, they only constitute about 18% of electrical power generation. What difference would that make?

A lot! Loss of 18% of power generation, from any types of power plants, would put us in a "rolling blackout" mode as is being used now in Japan. For part of every 24-hour day you have no electrical power. Remember, that power is required to run your furnace and air conditioning, not to mention you refrigerator, freezer and all other electric appliances.

Actions have consequences. Choose wisely.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire March 16, 2011 | 12:02 p.m.

Ellis, I can't tell you how scared I am.

(Report Comment)
Richard Porterfield March 17, 2011 | 7:27 a.m.

Yea, 18% is a serious amount of energy to replace but, consider this: Germany paid out over $500,000 to hunters that have taken wild boars that are radioactive, just in the past year. Twnety five years after Chernobyl, you still can't eat the meat. It only takes ONE accident to destroy life for and pervert DNA for centuries.

The sun always shines, the wind always blows and the rivers always run, use them. Harvest that energy and leave glowing in the dark to the lightning bugs.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking March 17, 2011 | 8:31 a.m.

Richard Porterfield wrote:

"The sun always shines, the wind always blows and the rivers always run, use them."

Actually, they don't. That's part of the problem with using renewables (the other is the expense).

One of the most valuable things about conventional power sources is "dispatchability", or the ability of the plant to make as much power as needed and no more. Wind, solar, and "run-of-the-river" hydro produce power on their own schedule, and require expensive energy storage in order to make them dispatchable.

Could we save 18% by efficiency upgrades? Probably, but even if we did so, it might be better to take our older coal plants offline instead. If the IPCC projections are correct, the unchecked effects of climate change will cause far more devastation than if every nuclear plant operating had a TMI scale accident.


(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 17, 2011 | 9:13 a.m.

Let's list some generation processes that DON'T create carbon dioxide (or if they generate any, it's of no consequence):


Any rational national energy policy would include these processes to the fullest extent they can be employed, but needs to realize that combustion cannot be eliminated. As I've noted, certain industrial processes require combustion; there is no viable substitute.

Whenever we discuss combustion and its product carbon dioxide we need to remember than a significant portion of that carbon dioxide comes from the gasoline and diesel** engines of vehicles.

Some of us do not see the carbon dioxide problem as an "either or" situation: we definitely need to reduce the emissions, but don't need to eliminate them entirely.

*-How one campus of University of Missouri System proposes to obtain its future energy, as approved by the curators.

**- Does everyone understand that diesel engine exhaust fumes also contain long chain hydrocarbons, some of which are listed as suspected carcinogens? Maybe we should ban motor transport. Lots of luck with that! :)

(Report Comment)
frank christian March 17, 2011 | 11:26 a.m.

Richard Porterfield - Germany has radioactive wild boars and we have mercury in our fish. Life goes on.

An explosion in boar population has produced the unusual number. "Hunters aren't idly standing by. They've found a concoction called Giese salt that supposedly causes wild boar to excrete radioactive substances after the animals have ingested the salt. "Discovery" goes on to say that the salt is working, reducing the radioactivity to acceptable levels. An interesting and informative story about an unusual occurrence, but you choose to cry "Wolf!"

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire March 17, 2011 | 11:56 a.m.

Wow fRank. Did you really say that?

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire March 17, 2011 | 12:05 p.m.

Let's everyone support nuclear power so that some inept, stupid, morally decayed lardass can obtain a small measure of economic gain during the last five years of his miserable pointless life.

Really, after that it doesn't matter anymore.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire March 17, 2011 | 12:32 p.m.

Oh, and look at the advertisement that is still running in this local paper.

Just think. For only two bucks a year you can share in the wonderment.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 17, 2011 | 12:40 p.m.

We do have our fair share of inept, stupid, morally decayed lardasses, don't we. :)

We also had them before we learned how to split atoms.

Give a fine violin to an accomplished violinist and there's a good chance you'll get beautiful music.

Give the same violin to a chimpanzee and you'll be damned fortunate if you don't end up with the busted violin.

No shortage of "chimpanzees," but while they may not play violins they can be trained to carry signs.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire March 17, 2011 | 12:49 p.m.

Oh you must be very upset about those signs.

I recall that one of the chimps was playing the violin yesterday while the others carried the signs.

But don't ask me. I'm only a chimp. Hell, you're damn lucky I can even type.

Do you really believe that * you wrote about the rolling blackouts?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 17, 2011 | 1:22 p.m.

Part of Japan is in a rolling blackout mode right now, due to loss of electrical generating capacity. It was the only sensible thing to do under the serious circumstances.

It could happen with the North American (United States, Canada) power grid, and it wouldn't take an earthquake to cause it. When any system is nearly maxed out it takes very little to shove it over the edge. Same for U. S. petroleum refining capacity.

The signs don't bother me; some of the people carrying them are droll.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire March 17, 2011 | 1:40 p.m.

I see. You believe that an emergency measure caused by a disaster not predictable an hour before it happened is what would happen if some changes were written into law here over the course of so many years.

And don't worry. I think you are quite intelligent, coming on here with your name and then launching a personal attack on a nice day when I'm kind of bored...

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire March 17, 2011 | 1:46 p.m.

But still, your brilliance pales in comparison to your illustrious mentor, who I must quote once again for all of posterity...

"Richard Porterfield - Germany has radioactive wild boars and we have mercury in our fish. Life goes on.

An explosion in boar population has produced the unusual number. "Hunters aren't idly standing by. They've found a concoction called Giese salt that supposedly causes wild boar to excrete radioactive substances after the animals have ingested the salt. "Discovery" goes on to say that the salt is working, reducing the radioactivity to acceptable levels. An interesting and informative story about an unusual occurrence, but you choose to cry "Wolf!""

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 17, 2011 | 2:21 p.m.

I believe I've struck a nerve. And on a nice day, etc.

What's this "with your name" jazz? Do you want me to change my name, or what? My name has served me sufficiently for 78 years and I really don't fancy changing it at this late date. :)

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire March 17, 2011 | 2:54 p.m.

My error. I had scrolled through some of your discourse and had erroneously concluded that you were a prepubescent spoiled college kid with little experience that would connect him to the outside world.

So when I said "... during the last five years of his ..." I really wasn't thinking about you at all.

So thanks for the correction and the laugh. At least I won't have to worry that you might be on the voter rolls for another 78 years.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 17, 2011 | 3:16 p.m.

"At least I won't have to worry that you might be on the voter rolls for another 78 years."

That's because I don't reside in Chicago or any other cities where deceased registered Democrats habitually vote. :)

[It was Gore Vidal who said something about aged Republican voters managing to get to the polls to vote for William McKinley. However, that's legal, even if McKinley wasn't on the ballot.]

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking March 17, 2011 | 4:12 p.m.

frank christian wrote:

"They've found a concoction called Giese salt that supposedly causes wild boar to excrete radioactive substances after the animals have ingested the salt."

Giese salt blocks the absorption of radioactive cesium. It does not cause excretion of previously absorbed radioisotopes. It makes any ingested radiocesium appear in excreta, instead of in the meat.

That's why they give iodine tablets. The thyroid gland concentrates iodine to make thyroxin. If the thyroid is sufficiently saturated with iodine, it will not take radioactive iodine from the environment.

I'd be surprised if the German pigs had enough radioactivity in them to matter. We, in the first world, have made a world of fear, and we tend to fear that which gives us the very things that we enjoy (food, water, electricity, etc). All of these wonders come at a cost, and sometimes that cost has to be paid. There is no free lunch.


(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire March 17, 2011 | 4:35 p.m.

So then it is better to let the rest of the world pay for your lunch.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire March 17, 2011 | 5:51 p.m.

Don't you want to contribute your fair share for the power that WAS used at the convenience of some of the Japanese?

What's a little radioactivity when we're talking about BIG SCREENS? And you know that without them you will lose productivity, and then maybe the space race.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 17, 2011 | 6:18 p.m.

@ DK:

Your last paragraph (post time 4:12 pm) is a classic, starting with the word "We...

Howard Pyle, a noted illustrator and writer, published a book* called "The Wonder Clock." An illustrated poem in that book dealt with what you are saying. When we have very little, we hope for better. After all, how much worse can it get*? But when we have everything (at least in the view of those who have very little), we worry that we will lose what we have. Basic human nature.

Pyle was the author or several books, still popular with children and available from Dover Books, Inc. at VERY reasonable prices. Google them. Both my daughter and granddaughters have enjoyed their (paperback) books.

*-Actually, it can get worse.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire March 18, 2011 | 12:45 p.m.

I'm disappointed. All this time has elapsed and nobody asked Frank how they were dispensing the special salt to all the wild boars.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 18, 2011 | 1:41 p.m.

Correction to my previous post. The publisher is Dover Publications, Inc.

Dover publishes children's books, adult fiction, and math and science books, many in soft cover but some in hard cover. The soft cover books are above average for quality. Some of mine have been through two generations of kids.

Many of the non-math and science books are in the public doman (copyright expired), so Dover pays no royalties. This keeps costs low. Dover in some cases is the only source if you want to buy those books.

Once you get on Dover's mailing list and buy something you will probaby be there for life!

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire March 18, 2011 | 8:37 p.m.

Still no word about how to get the salt to the wild boars?

(Report Comment)

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