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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

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Initiative to reverse ban on nuclear plants statwide is withdrawn

Insufficient public support for new nuclear plants in California prompts sponsor to shelve the plan

11/27/2007 By David Sneed


http://www.sanluisobispo.com/news/local/story/203714.html

An initiative to lift the state’s ban on new nuclear power plants will not appear on the June 2008 ballot.

State Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine, has withdrawn the ballot initiative he submitted to state elections officials, after public opinion polls found lukewarm support for new nuclear power plants in the state.

His initiative would have overturned a 1976 state law prohibiting construction of new nuclear reactors until a permanent solution for the storage of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel is found.

About 14 percent of California’s power comes from nuclear plants. The state has two nuclear power plants in operation: the San Onofre plant near San Diego and the Diablo Canyon plant near Avila Beach.

“This was certainly a controversial initiative,” DeVore said. “If we pushed this thing to the ballot, we were likely to lose.”

Lifting the state’s nuclear moratorium is relevant to San Luis Obispo County because most proposals for new nuclear plants call for adding reactors to existing plants.

Officials with Pacific Gas and Electric Co., which owns and operates the Diablo Canyon plant, say they are interested in more nuclear power but are not proposing adding new reactors to Diablo.

PG&E spokesman Pete Resler said Monday the utility had no comment on the De- Vore initiative.

There is renewed interest nationally in nuclear power and federal regulators expect to process applications for about 30 new reactors along the East Coast and in the Southeast in coming years.

A group of entrepreneurs has proposed building a new nuclear plant in Fresno.

Unless it is overturned, the state’s nuclear moratorium will prevent new nuclear plants for the foreseeable future. Completion of a planned nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, is at least a decade away—maybe longer if Nevada legislators succeed in their pledge to keep the repository out of their state.

Lacking support

In addition to lifting the nuclear moratorium, DeVore’s ballot initiative would have prevented nuclear plants from being built in earthquake-prone areas and along ecologically sensitive parts of the coastline.

In October, DeVore got permission to begin gathering signatures to place the initiative on the ballot. No signature gathering was done, however, because several opinion polls showed that 52 percent of the public supports more nuclear power while 42 percent is opposed.

That was not enough support to justify moving ahead given the fact that environmental and some consumer groups were gearing up to fight the initiative.

“That’s very modest support,” he said. “You want to be in the mid-60 percent range before you start on something that controversial.”

Rochelle Becker, who heads the San Luis Obispo-based Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility, said she was delighted by DeVore’s decision to stop the campaign. The state Energy Commission is doing a cost-benefit analysis of nuclear power and it would be premature and irresponsible, she said, to change the law before that analysis is finished.

Becker was working with other groups, including the Sierra Club, to fight the initiative. They want the state to pursue renewable energy sources rather than nuclear power.

“When Mr. DeVore introduced this initiative,” she said, “he brought many more people together on our side than he anticipated.”

DeVore said he hasn’t given up on the idea of new nuclear power plants in California as a way of meeting ambitious state goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. He plans to submit a bill next year that would lift the nuclear moratorium legislatively and said it may take several years to generate enough public support to change the law.

DeVore submitted such a bill to the state Legislature last year, but it was voted down in committee. The new bill has not been written yet, so De- Vore is not sure how it will differ from the previous one.

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