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Rocky Mountain Power eyes nuclear energy

Rocky Mountain Power eyes nuclear energy

RIVERTON, Wyo. -- It might be decades before a nuclear power plant is located in Wyoming, but the state could make some decisions now that would smooth the path for nuclear energy, the head of a utility told a state task force Wednesday.

If Wyoming wants to promote the development of nuclear power in the state, it should find good locations for nuclear plants, cooperate with nearby states and make its regulations more friendly for development, Rocky Mountain Power President Rich Walje said.

Walje spoke during a meeting in Riverton of the Legislature's Task Force on Nuclear Energy Production.

The task force consists of state lawmakers and people commissioned by the Legislature to study the future of nuclear energy in Wyoming, which is a major supplier of uranium bound for facilities elsewhere.

Walje said his utility has considered sites in Wyoming and other states for a nuclear energy facility and has considered buying existing reactors in other states.

"As a company, we actually believe nuclear has a role in our present and future," he said.

Rocky Mountain Power provides power for about half of the electrical consumers in the state. It also provides a majority of the power used in Wyoming energy development. The utility generates electricity from coal-fired power plants and wind farms it owns in Wyoming.

Walje said the state should consider paying for an in-depth technical analysis of potential nuclear facility sites in Wyoming.

The utility already analyzed some sites in the state along with others in the West, but something similar to a two-year, $5 million study conducted by the state of Iowa would prove useful, he said.

Walje said the state should also consider adjusting its laws and regulations to make it less risky to build nuclear power generation in Wyoming, as it can take a decade to get approval to build such facilities.

"There needs to be some level of risk mitigiation that's assured by the regulatory and statutory processes," he said.

Walje said the utility expects that stricter rules regarding emissions of greenhouse gases will make nuclear power more attractive compared to coal-fired power plants, which currently produce half of the electricity used in the nation.

"We are actually certain at some point there will be more nuclear generation in the United States' portfolio," he said.

Wyoming should also work with other states in the West toward plans to develop nuclear energy, he said.

That would likely make development easier for Rocky Mountain Power, which serves customers in six Western states that often have different goals for the kinds of energy they'll produce and use.

The discussion about nuclear energy production includes some serious opposition, particularly because of the nuclear power facility in Japan stricken by a tsunami earlier this year.

People are quick to see a reactor cooling tower and picture a mushroom cloud, Walje said.

"There is a lot of fear, and some of it is probably warranted and some of it is not," he said. "The worst thing that happened to the industry was Homer Simpson taking radioactive isotopes home with him in a lunch box."

Wyoming needs to consider changes to open the way for the development of nuclear energy, said task force member and state Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper.

Lawmakers should "really make Wyoming as friendly as possible, to really add as much value as possible to our uranium," he said.

State Rep. Tom Lockhart, R-Casper, a sponsor of the legislation that created the task force, attended the meeting and told task force members he was pleased with how they were going about their mission.

"I think if you boil it down to one issue, we need it all, and nuclear is certainly a component of that," he said, referring to energy development and use.

The task force is in the midst of two days of meetings that wrap up Thursday. It will submit its recommendations to the Legislature for consideration in the 2012 session.



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