Forty years ago, the Montana voters passed Initiative 80 (I-80). This initiative empowered Montanans with the right to vote for or against allowing any nuclear generating facility in Montana.
Last week, Rep. Derek Skees introduced House Bill (HB) 273, a bill to overturn this initiative and eliminate the public’s right to vote on new nuclear proposals. During the hearing, Rep. Skees said, “The majority of the folks who voted for the initiative did not know what they were voting for. That shouldn’t even really be a benchmark. We’re not even overturning the will of the people when the people did not know what they were voting for.”
Really? These are the same voters that elected him! I-80 was a hotly contested ballot measure with a great deal of press coverage and citizen involvement. Opponents spent a record amount of money attempting to defeat the initiative – and failed. The public had concerns about nuclear energy and many of us thought that the public should have the final yes or no vote on whether to allow nuclear energy facilities in Montana.
In 1978, the initiative passed with an overwhelming 65% of state voters supporting it. Now, the Montana Legislature wants to overturn I-80. Do legislators think that the very same voters that elected them aren’t smart enough to determine whether nuclear energy is safe?
A year after approving I-80, the most significant nuclear accident in U.S. history occurred: Three Mile Island. That incident justified the public’s concerns regarding nuclear energy, and it continued to be justified with subsequent disasters in Chernobyl (1986) and Fukushima (2011).
The costs are catastrophic when an accident occurs at a nuclear facility: Nuclear radiation released as a result of the Chernobyl disaster seeped into local vegetation and livestock. Thousands have been diagnosed with cancer as a result.
Nuclear waste also has to be stored somewhere, as Japanese scientists and citizens are discovering. They’re running out of room to store dangerous irradiated water at the Fukushima-Daiichi power plant, and releasing it into the ocean could cause genetic damage to all living creatures.
Nuclear–generating facilities are sited on large bodies of water for cooling purposes. Flathead Lake would be ideal, as would Ennis Lake and Fort Peck just to name a few. Plus, there is no guarantee that the storage location necessary to contain the waste for thousands of years will not have severe future environmental impacts… especially in seismically active Montana.
Montana voters gave themselves the exclusive power to approve or reject the siting of nuclear power facilities through passage of Initiative 80. Regardless of how much nuclear technology has progressed, science has still not found a cure for the dangers associated with nuclear radiation. We say, if it’s safe, let Montanans decide. Montana voters are smart.
John Wilson, Jim Barngrover, Matthew Jordan, Jan Strout, Deborah Hanson, Terry Hanson, Steve Doherty, Pat Sweeney, Nancy McLane, Tom Schneider, and Adele Pittendrigh, all of whom worked to write, qualify and pass I-80.