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Published: Wednesday, 6/17/2009

Nuclear plant planned in southern Ohio

BY JONATHAN RISKIND
AND RANDY LUDLOW
COLUMBUS DISPATCH

A multibillion-dollar nuclear power plant proposed for southern Ohio would be the first started in the U.S. since before the Three Mile Island accident.

'I'm a big cheerleader for nuclear power, and I always have been,' Gov. Ted Strickland told The Dispatch. 'I'm excited about it.'

Strickland and representatives from an alliance of energy companies will be in Piketon this morning for the formal announcement by Duke Energy and the French nuclear energy company Areva. Sen. George V. Voinovich, R-Ohio, and Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Loveland, also will be on hand.

The plant, to be located on the sprawling grounds of a former uranium-enrichment plant, could take a decade or more to build and employ about 4,000 construction workers during the construction phase alone, assuming the project gains the necessary financing and federal approval. If that reactor is a success, officials say the site is large enough to hold a second nuclear plant.

The facility would be built near a planned advanced-technology uranium-enrichment plant operated by USEC Inc., which ran the old enrichment plant, too, until it closed several years ago.

Strickland said he is intrigued by the prospect of both generating power at Piketon and producing the power rods for its reactor at the same site.

Noting that he has three brothers who are cement masons and other relatives who are electricians and pipe fitters, Strickland said with a broad smile, 'How do you think I feel about 4,000 construction jobs?'

Mark Shanahan, Strickland's energy adviser, said he couldn't discuss the announcement but noted that the governor insisted that nuclear power be part of a 2007 requirement that 25 percent of Ohio's electricity come from advanced energy sources by 2025.

'He clearly believes that with the challenge of climate change facing us, it's not responsible to not talk about the one source of ' electricity seven days a week, 24 hours a day, that has no carbon emissions,' Shanahan said.

The governor's office is referring to the site as a '21st century clean energy production center.'

President Barack Obama has indicated support for nuclear energy as one way to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, but he also has indicated that building new plants should be approached with caution.

Nuclear power has been pushed for years by many power companies as a green alternative to coal-fired power plants. Supporters, including officials with Columbus-based research giant Battelle, say nuclear plants emit none of the pollutants that help form smog, soot and acid rain.

They also don't spew millions of tons of carbon dioxide, which climatologists consider the leading cause of global warming. Coal-fired power plants also emit mercury, a neurotoxin found in fish in most Ohio lakes and streams.

Environmentalists say nuclear plants' biggest liability remains the thousands of tons of cancer-causing radioactive wastes they produce. That makes them a 'dirtier' option than other green sources of energy, which include solar and wind power as options, they say.

'Where do you safely store the waste?' said Jack Shaner, lobbyist with the Ohio Environmental Council. 'It's not green energy.'

A Washington source said there will be no direct federal funding for construction, but there will be requests for money to cover land use and site studies.

The last U.S. reactor built was the River Bend plant in Louisiana, where construction began in 1977 ' two years before Unit 2 at Three Mile Island sustained a partial core meltdown ' according to the U.S. Department of Energy. A new commercial nuclear reactor has not come on line since Feb. 7, 1996, when the second unit at the Tennessee Valley Authority-operated Watts Bar plant near Spring City, Tenn., began operating. A rebuilt TVA plant reopened in 2007 near Athens, Ala.

Ohio has two operating nuclear power plants, both in northern Ohio: Davis-Besse near Oak Harbor (which began operating in 1978) and Perry in Lake County east of Cleveland (which came online in 1987).

But the last attempt at building a nuclear power plant in Ohio ended up as a costly misadventure. In 1984, the three Ohio utilities building the William H. Zimmer nuclear power plant along the Ohio River east of Cincinnati abandoned the project when it reached 96 percent completion and a cost of $1.7 billion.

The plant's safety-related construction was seriously flawed and there were no guarantees it would receive federal approval to operate without more huge expenditures. The plant eventually was converted to burn coal at an added cost of nearly $2 billion.

The nuclear industry has fed a lot of families in southern Ohio and Pike County over the decades, but it also has created heartbreak.

For nearly 50 years, southern Ohioans labored at a government uranium-enrichment plant at Piketon, churning out the stuff of nuclear warheads and power-plant fuel rods.

The Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant left a Cold War legacy of workers sick or dead from radiation-related cancers and other illnesses.

More than 3,700 sick Piketon uranium-plant workers and their survivors have collected $324.7million in compensation and payment of $40.8 million in medical bills through a special federal program since 2001.

Piketon is viewed as highly desirable for a nuclear plant because it has high-capacity transmission lines and huge water resources.

This project does not appear to be what Strickland was referring to last week when he said that a foreign company planned to locate its North American headquarters in Ohio.

Dispatch reporters Mark Niquette and Spencer Hunt contributed to this story.



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