MUSCATINE, Iowa — The people have spoken — and they keep on speaking.
“I am getting overwhelming feedback that people aren’t interested in a nuclear plant in Muscatine County,” said Jeff Sorensen, who chairs the Muscatine County Board of Supervisors. “But I don’t know what our role in the process is except to say we don’t want it.”
That role? It's pretty limited, actually.
Though the board can speak on behalf of the public, it has no legal authority to approve or prevent a nuclear power plant in Muscatine County. That authority lies with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a federal agency.
Sorensen was one of four Muscatine County supervisors who attended a meeting Tuesday in Wilton sponsored by the group Saving America’s Farmland and Environment, SAFE. Also attending the meeting — during which officials from MidAmerican Energy explained the process they’re using to evaluate a site southeast of Wilton as well as one in Fremont County for the possible construction of a nuclear or natural gas plant — were supervisors Tom Furlong, Scott Sauer and Bob Howard.
Jeff Kaufmann of Wilton, a former Republican state legislator and current member of the Cedar County Board of Supervisors, also was present. During a question-and-answer session following MidAmerican Energy’s presentation, Kaufmann said he questions nuclear energy “now more than ever.” He said he plans to ask his colleagues today on the Cedar County Board of Supervisors to enact a resolution opposing the nuclear option. “It (the plant) would be in Muscatine County, but we’d be in the evacuation zone,” Kaufmann said. “It may sound like political grandstanding, but I feel like we’re a real guinea pig here.”
Sauer said that although he’s opposed to MidAmerican Energy constructing a nuclear plant in Muscatine County, it might be more helpful instead to lobby Iowa lawmakers to help the utility gain tax advantages for closing down five of its coal-fired plants by 2016. “They already have the infrastructure and the transmission lines there,” Sauer said. “It makes a lot of sense to me.”
Howard and Furlong both said they oppose a nuclear plant in Muscatine County. “If there ever was contamination like Chernobyl,” Furlong said, “you would take prime farm ground out of production, possibly for centuries.”
“If you give up 600 acres (the amount of ground that MidAmerican has options on for a plant) of our farmland, that is a real hurt,” Howard said. “The nation and the world look to Iowa for production agriculture. A resolution (opposing a nuclear plant) might make us feel good, but it doesn’t do anything. We can work around things and work through things if we work together.”
Dwight Glenney, the Wilton farmer who founded SAFE, said the forum, attended by more than 300 people, accomplished both of its purposes: it gave the utility the opportunity to present what it’s learned to date, and it gave attendees the chance to ask questions.
“A lot of people told us they hadn’t heard our side of the story, and they appreciated that,” he said. “We want people to be able to make intelligent decisions, and they can’t unless someone does a lot of research.”
A corn and soybean producer, Glenney said he’s concerned that American farmers will have to double their production over the next 50 years just to keep pace with world demand.
“We don’t do that,” he said, “by building a power plant where it doesn’t need to be.”