House Passes Nuclear Power Bill

March 13, 2009 - OKLAHOMA CITY (The Associated Press) -By TIM TALLEY Associated Press Writer

Legislation that would streamline the review process for nuclear power
plants was passed by the Oklahoma House Thursday night, but opponents said
the guidelines would protect utility stockholders while exposing ratepayers
to the huge financial risks posed by nuclear plants.

The proposal is one of several pieces of legislation supported by
Republican House leaders that emphasize alternative forms of energy,
including nuclear, wind, solar and compressed natural gas, as a way to ease
the state and nation's dependence on foreign energy sources and advance the
state as an energy leader.

"If Oklahoma is going to remain on the energy forefront globally, we
must continue to diversify our portfolio to include sources that exist or
can be created locally, including nuclear power," said the measure's author,
Rep. Scott Martin, R-Norman.

The plan comes 26 years after Public Service Company of Oklahoma
proposed the Black Fox nuclear power plant near Inola in eastern Oklahoma.
The company abandoned the project after a nine-year battle with opponents.

Another other things, the measure establishes a review process for the
Oklahoma Corporation Commission to consider nuclear power proposals and
creates a task force to consider tax changes that would encourage
construction of a plant in Oklahoma.

If the measure becomes law, an electric utility would be able to file
an application with the Corporation Commission seeking a determination of
need to build a nuclear power plant. If approved, the plant's costs would be
subject to cost recovery rules similar to existing rules for other power
plant projects.

But opponents said the huge cost of a nuclear power plant, estimated
at between $6 billion and $10 billion, would mean customer rates would rise
significantly to help pay for the plant.

The AARP, which publicly opposes the plan, has said consumer rate
increases of 20 percent to 40 percent are possible based on an analysis of
similar legislation in other states.

House Democratic Leader Danny Morgan of Prague said ratepayers could
be required to pay for the plant even if the project is abandoned before it
is finished and never produces electricity.

"They get to recoup all of their costs," Morgan said. "There are no
safeguards in this legislation."

Martin said construction of a nuclear power plant would the largest
project ever undertaken in the state and that a key consideration in
deciding financing issues is whether there is a cost-benefit for ratepayers.

"It's going to be a large ticket for any company to even think about,"
Martin said. "The utility company needs to have some skin in the game,

Although Oklahoma does not have a nuclear power plant, Martin said 34
other states do including Kansas, Arkansas, Missouri and Texas. He said none
of them have experienced accidents with nuclear power generation.

"Within four hours of the Capitol there are nuclear power plants,"
Martin said. "It's an extremely safe form of energy."

Martin said that in most serious accident involving nuclear power in
U.S. history, at Three Mile Island near Harrisburg, Pa., in 1979, no one was

But Rep. Wallace Collins, D-Norman, said accidents involving radiation
have occurred in the state. Collins noted Karen Silkwood, an employee at
Kerr-McGee Corp.'s plutonium processing plant near Crescent who died in a
mysterious car crash in 1974 after alleging lax security procedures. It was
discovered after her death that Silkwood had been exposed to radiation.

Collins also mentioned a uranium conversion facility near Gore that
closed in 1993 after environmental violations.

"I would challenge the idea that nuclear power is safe," Collins said.

Supporters said nuclear power should be pursued because it offers an
alternative to coal- and natural gas-powered generating plants.

"We can't let fear overcome good judgment," said Rep. Randy McDaniel,

The measure, House Bill 1750, passed 60-19 and now goes to the Senate
for consideration.