Japan's nuclear crisis hits home for some

March 17, 2011 3:08:03 AM PDT
As Japan deals with the possibility of nuclear meltdowns, folks in one Texas town are speaking out over plans to build a nuclear power plant in their community.

The proposed site for the nuclear plant is in Victoria County. Today, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission held a hearing to discuss the proposal, and with so much uncertainty in Japan, residents are expressing their concerns.

Wednesday was the first day of a two-day hearing, and as you can imagine, there are people concerned about the prospect of having a nuclear plant built so close to downtown Victoria. But surprisingly, there are other people who think it might not be a bad idea.

In the quaint downtown of Victoria a heated debate is brewing over what could be built just a few miles down the Guadalupe River -- a nuclear power plant.

"If something were to happen -- and chances are it won't -- but who knows? They didn't expect that to happen in Japan either," Victoria land owner Janice Hill said.

Hill owns land near the potential site of the plant. That's why she came to a Nuclear Regulatory Commission Hearing finding out why Exelon, a Chicago-based company, thinks building a nuclear plant in Victoria is a good idea.

"We believe strongly in nuclear because it's a safe, reliable way to produce electricity," William Scott with Exelon Power Texas said.

Exelon wants the NRC to give it early stage approval so it can consider building a plant. But giving the ongoing crisis in Japan, opponents say Victoria is the wrong place, and this is the wrong time to grant such a permit.

"In light of what happened in Japan, the question is are we going to continue business as usual with the nuclear industry or are we going to really raise the bar and start asking the hard questions that I don't think have been asked in the past," Jim Blackburn with Texans for Sound Energy said.

But not everyone in Victoria thinks nuclear plants are a bad idea. Susan Maguire says a plant would bring jobs.

"There is risk in any type of fuel production, whether it's oil, whether it's coal, whether it's wind power, or whether it's hydro electric power," Maguire said.

But opponents say the area's tourism industry and wildlife depend on the Guadalupe River. The last thing they need is a nuclear plant to compete for such a precious resource.

"It's many issues, this is just the wrong location," Hill said.

The hearing will continue Thursday, after which the NRC has a number of weeks, perhaps even months, to reach a decision on whether to grant the early permit. Even if the permit is granted, it doesn't necessarily mean the plant will be built; it just means that Exelon will have the option of doing so in the next 20 years.