Apr 032011
Authors: Christopher Boan

Three weeks ago, a 9.1 magnitude earthquake that left nearly 12,000 people dead and more than 17,000 missing, crushed Japan. The quake, and the devastating tsunami that followed, all but destroyed the infrastructure of the Asian superpower including the now infamous Fukishima Dalichi Plant in Okuma.

As a result of the meltdown, many locals are fearful of a proposal that would bring a 3,000-kilowatt plant to the Pueblo area as part of a 24,000-acre plot of land, intending it to be Colorado’s first “Clean Energy Park”. The measure is currently up for debate in the Colorado Legislature and is co-sponsored by Representative Brian DelGrosso of Larimer County and Senator Gail Schwartz of Snowmass Valley.

“I think that every person should be mindful of nuclear energy,” CSU Sociology Assistant Director Lori Peek said. “Approximately one-fifth of all U.S. energy comes from nuclear power, so like it or not it’s here to stay.”

According to reports, a crowd of 300 or so protesters filed into the Pueblo County Commissioners’ meeting on Wednesday, expressing fears that another situation like what occurred in Okuma and Chernobyl could occur in Pueblo, as well.

Suzanne Morgan of Puebloans for Smart Energy –– a group opposed to the proposed site –– said, “The proposal (House Bill 1255) only requires that 30 percent of the total power be provided by ‘renewable’ resources. That’s not very environmentally friendly.”

Opponents of the nuclear site also say that nuclear energy is very water-consuming, and will dry up and pollute the already fragile water table, according to studies conducted by Harvard and Virginia Tech. The fear that uranium mining and extraction will emit carbon and other pollutants into the atmosphere is another sticking point for the opposition.

“When you enrich and extract uranium you release carbon dioxide,” added Morgan, “The process as a whole is no cleaner than coal or any other fossil fuels.”

Proponents of the plan, however, counter that the proposal will bring thousands of jobs to an area in desperate need. Both Schwartz and DelGrosso state that the bill will be a definite stepping-stone toward a clean energy economy.

Schwartz opposed that viewpoint, though, stating, “Nuclear energy is a thing of the past, we need to be taking the lead, not falling in line with a broken system.”

Proponents of the site agree that while nuclear power isn’t necessarily the “cleanest” of energy forms, that it at least wanes our dependence on foreign oil and fossil fuels like coal.
“We can’t refer to nuclear as a clean energy, as it leaves behind too much waste,” Peek said. “But, if we can develop a responsible way to dispose of it then it’s the best of a bad situation.”

Currently the United States leads the world, with 104 nuclear reactors, though none have been built since the moratorium was put in place after the Three Mile Island near-meltdown in 1979. As of 2010, 20 percent of all energy in the United States came from nuclear sources.

Opponents of the site worry about the possible aftereffects these nuclear plants could have for future generations.

“I don’t want my children and grandchildren to be left with waste from these plants,” Schwartz said. “What a terrible legacy that would be.”

Staff Writer Christopher Boan can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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