Pueblo County is one step closer to getting a nuclear power plant. Late Tuesday, the county's planning commission voted to support the idea. The plant is proposed for about 24,000 acres of land between Avondale and Fowler along Highway 50.
Plans for the nuclear facility were discussed and debated for almost six hours Tuesday. Close to midnight, the planning commission voted 5-3 to recommend that county commissioners amend the county's master plan to allow the nuclear plant, and, in another 5-3 vote, recommend that commissioners consider plans for the facility. Commissioners will have the final say on whether those plans will go forward.
There were dozens of people at the planning commission meeting, and the room was split on whether a nuclear facility would be the right move for Pueblo.
The facility is being proposed by a group called Puebloans For Energizing Our Community. It calls the plant a 'clean energy park' that would produce nuclear, wind, solar and geothermal energy. Donald Banner, a Pueblo attorney who served as a spokesperson, said the site would create 2,500-5,000 construction jobs over about five years when the plant was being built; 400 to 700 permanent jobs at power site; and up to 1,000 jobs off-site for the community. He said the facility would also boost area property values.
"People will see an increase in value of land around the energy park," said Banner. "We need it for economic growth and for jobs."
He said the plant itself would be barely visible.
"What you'll see on 24,000 acres of land is probably nothing," said Banner. "24,000 acres is about as big as Pueblo, as big as Pueblo West. [It would be like taking] 500 acres in the center of that and putting something on it."
Some at the meeting had big safety concerns about a nuclear plant, and brought up past accidents at other facilities in the U.S. and elsewhere.
"When you have to talk about 'half-lifes' of something, than it's really dangerous," said Suzanne Morgan, who lives a few miles from the proposed facility site. "That's going to be in my backyard, and it's going to be coming through Pueblo."
She said she's also concerned about effects on Pueblo's agriculture.
"When we look at putting that plant out there and we have suburban sprawl, what's going to happen to all of our farmers?" she asked.
Some also said they feel like the proposal has come about too quickly, and more public discussion is needed.
Banner said that the plant would cost $5-8 billion dollars, and that he didn't have a developer on board yet. He said, at best, the plant could be up and running in about 11 years.
The nuclear plant is expected to be discussed on Thursday at the Pueblo Area Council of Governments meeting.