Pueblo Residents Split On Nuclear Power Plant

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3min 57sec

Colorado doesn't have a nuclear power plant. But a Pueblo attorney wants to change that. He's proposed an energy park with a nuclear power plant as the centerpiece. Now the Fukushima meltdown in Japan may have galvanized community opposition against it. Colorado Public Radio's Ben Markus reports.

Don Banner stands in the conference room of his downtown Pueblo law office. He's holding a large satellite picture of where he wants to put a nuclear plant.

Banner: The project area, the 24,000 acres, is 25miles east of I-25, and then about 7 miles, 5-7 miles south of highway 50. Ben: There's nothing out there? Don: There's nothing out there.

In early February his plan cleared the Pueblo Planning Commission. And now the county commissioners are weighing the proposal. Banner says the nuclear plant would bring hundreds of construction jobs and millions in tax revenue.

Banner: This would be the single most economic incentive and driver that Pueblo has ever had.

He says he doesn't have any financing lined up...nor does he have a power company that wants to run the plant. It’s been nearly 40 years since anyone built a nu-cleear power plant in the U.S.--though about a dozen are being proposed around the country now. Banner acknowledges his plan is very preliminary. And now the idea may be the victim of some pretty awful timing.

CNN (clip): More disturbing, troubling news from Japan just in to CNN, and explosive impact occurred Tuesday morning at the fukushima diachi nuclear power plant in the number 2 reactor...

Pueblo resident Ross Vincent is chair of the southeastern Colorado chapter of the Sierra Club.

Vincent: I'm sure there are people in the community who probably would not have paid attention to the debate had it not been what happened in Japan.
He's been against the plant since the beginning. And he hasn't been persuaded by Banner's sales pitch...

Vincent: Nuclear power will be clean, safe, and cheap. And none of those things are true, they weren't true 40 years ago, and they aren't true now.

He says you can reduce the probability that a Fukushima-like disaster will happen but you can’t prevent it. Shoppers exiting the local King Soopers didn’t appear to be persuaded either.

Torres: It's scary, I mean I've lived here all my life and I just don't think we should have any kind of dangerous plants here that would endanger us as a community.
Martinez: Well it's good for the jobs, but it ain't goin' be no good if you're not around and something happens, you know?

Rossler: I just don't want them messing up the beauty of Colorado, basically.

That was Laura Torres, Martin Martinez, and Tammy Rossler. Then there was Cassie Armijo. She's definitely for it.

Armijo: Just to bring in like money into Pueblo, some revenue and my dad would be on that plant, my dad's a construction worker and he's out at the chemical depot right now.

The chemical depot is a military munitions facility on the outskirts of town.
It's one of the few big developments in Pueblo which suffers an unemployment rate of nearly 12-percent--significantly higher than the state average. Cathy Garcia runs Action 22 in Pueblo...a business advocacy group. She's a huge supporter of the plant...especially after the proposed closing of the nearby Fort Lyon Correctional Facility.

Garcia: That even makes it more important to look at other things that can generate new jobs and new opportunities.

Local attorney Don Banner agrees. He says he'd like to see a Pueblo where his grandchildren could get good, high paying jobs.

Banner: Want a future for Pueblo. Pueblo will have a future with or without this. I want a quality future for Pueblo.

He'll soon find out if his vision gets the OK. The County Commissioners will decide a key zoning issue on Monday. If they approve the plan, there’s still a long way to go: finding investors, a utility company to build and run it, and a grueling Federal permitting process.