THURMAN, Iowa — MidAmerican Energy appears to be looking at this community 40 miles south of Omaha as a potential site for a new nuclear power facility.
About 40 landowners and other residents in Fremont County recently received invitations to a meeting today that will be hosted by the company in Hamburg.
The note said only that MidAmerican is reviewing sites in Iowa for “future electric generating plants” and that the company plans to take soil samples from properties in the Thurman area.
But fliers left at the Fremont County Courthouse for curious residents were more specific.
Titled: “Nuclear Generation in Iowa,” the flier notes that in 2010, the Iowa Legislature directed MidAmerican to complete a three-year study on the construction of nuclear facilities in the state.
It explains that taking soil samples to help determine if land in a particular area is suitable for a nuclear plant is part of the process — and that soil sampling is happening near Thurman.
Tina Potthoff, a MidAmerican spokeswoman, confirmed that the test results would be part of a report submitted to the Legislature next year, but she cautioned that no final decisions about a site have been made. She said a similar process is happening at one location in eastern Iowa.
“This is part of the overall process to assess land suitability,” she said.
Potthoff said MidAmerican has not purchased property in the area, and the county has no recent records of property transactions. The only spot MidAmerican owns in the area, along Iowa Highway 2, is a little more than an acre in size and is used for a power station.
But the prospect of a nuclear facility is already creating a stir among people who live and farm in the Missouri River Valley.
Angie Nenneman lives in Sidney and helps farm ground owned by her fiance's family near the area in question. She is not convinced that nuclear power is safe.
“You don't get a do-over when you're dealing with nuclear energy,” said Nenneman, a pharmacy technician at Penn Drug in Sidney. “I wouldn't have near the concerns about natural gas.”
She says such a facility might bring jobs, but they may go to people who don't live in Fremont County.
It's a concern shared by JoAnn Birkby, who lives on Bluff Road about four miles from where residents say the plant could be situated. The Fremont County workforce is not uneducated, she said, but a nuclear power plant requires workers with very specialized skills. She also wonders how a facility could change the local landscape.
Bluff Road is listed as a scenic route, with the Loess Hills just to the east and the broad Missouri River Valley to the west.
Joe Skradski, an Omaha dentist building a home about a mile south of Thurman, doesn't think power generated at a local facility would be kept in the area.
Potthoff, of MidAmerican, said it was too early to speculate about where power would be distributed.
Skradski said he's disappointed that he didn't know a nuclear plant was a possibility when he bought his property. Birkby said the sudden news has caught many residents off-guard.
“That's part of the problem with all of us — it's been sprung on us,” she said. “It's been kept very secret, until it slipped out.”
Local officials said they don't have many details about MidAmerican's plans.
In the flier distributed in Fremont County, MidAmerican said it is trying to look for new, cleaner ways to generate energy. It said new federal environmental regulations could force it to shift away from coal-powered generation, which is why nuclear facilities are becoming more important.
Any plan to build a new facility has not reached the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said Viktoria Mitlyng, a spokeswoman for the agency. A list of new and potential plants does not include any in Iowa.
Mitlyng said companies typically go through an exhaustive process, including environmental studies, before making a formal proposal.
Rob Hillesland, a spokesman for the Iowa Utilities Board, said he was not aware of any plans for a nuclear facility in the area.
The studies happening in the Thurman area will include drilling into the soil in five locations, with each about 100 feet in depth. All such soil samples will be taken on private land, with the owners' permission.
Potthoff declined to share more details about what the company planned to discuss with landowners, if it had any specific plans about the size of a new facility or if it planned to purchase land in the near future.
She said more questions would be answered at Friday's meeting.
“We want to make sure that landowners have the information they need and also meet with them so they understand the process,” she said.
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