Japan crisis should not deter Iowa nuclear plants: official

DES MOINES, Iowa Mon Mar 14, 2011 7:32pm EDT

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Mon, Mar 14 2011

DES MOINES, Iowa (Reuters) - Japan's nuclear plant crisis spurred by the earthquake and tsunami should not deter planning for a second nuclear power station in Iowa, the state's lieutenant governor said on Monday.

Japan was scrambling on Monday to avert a meltdown at a stricken nuclear plant after an explosion in one reactor and exposure of fuel rods at another.

Iowa lawmakers have introduced bills "to encourage the prudent development" of nuclear electric power generation that includes a process for setting electricity rates for new plants. Iowa has one nuclear power plant located near Cedar Rapids.

Republican Lt. Gov Kim Reynolds told reporters Iowa should consider nuclear power among the many options for electricity generation and hoped the Japan crisis would not raise new opposition to plans for a new nuclear plant.

"You need to do it in a systematic, thoughtful manner, but it's a form of alternative energy that we need to look at to reduce our dependence on foreign oil," Reynolds said of continuing to explore the option of a nuclear power plant.

Opposition to construction of new nuclear power plants in the United States sharpened after a 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island station in Pennsylvania.

Reynolds said, that the technology is different now and there appeared to be a lot of opportunity for smaller facilities in the state. Iowa started exploring the possibility last year and was continuing the process this year.

Only one nuclear power plant has begun U.S. commercial operations in the past 15 years, about 60 miles from Knoxville, Tennessee. The only Iowa plant began operations in 1975.

However, nuclear power has gotten another look recently in the U.S. as one way to reduce dependence on foreign oil.

Since 2007, 21 applications have been received by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for new nuclear reactors. Even before the Japan crisis, few plants were expected to be completed in the U.S. because of financial considerations.

"It's a seven to eight year process in order to move toward nuclear production, but I think we need to continue to look at all alternative fuels and that's one of them," Reynolds said.

(Reporting by Kay Henderson, writing by David Bailey, editing by Greg McCune)