A majority of Utah residents are on board with a nuclear power plant in Utah, with 65% who say they are in support, compared to 31% who are opposed and another 4% who have yet to make up their mind.

A new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute poll by Dan Jones & Associates found residents are hungry for a new form of base load power, with 36% strongly in favor and 29% somewhat in favor. The poll of 801 registered voters was conducted June 26-July 4 and has a margin of error rate of plus or minus 3.46%.

Somewhat opposed residents came in at 12%, while 19% are strongly opposed.

Bonnie Cottam of Duchesne is one of those residents who is not sold on nuclear power, worrying about devastating consequences should there be a failure to the system — and the lingering public health and environmental impacts.

Her husband’s grandmother, she said, was a “downwinder” impacted from above ground nuclear detonation tests from 1945 to 1962, impacting residents in Utah, Nevada and Arizona.

‘Downwinders’ from Utah, Nevada may get extended relief

“If something goes wrong, is it safe for Utah?” she said. “I don’t think it is safe.”

Tapping public sentiment on the prospect of nuclear power generation in Utah comes as PacifiCorp is pursuing TerraPower’s Natrium sodium-cooled fast reactors at multiple sites in the West to replace retiring coal-fired power plants.

TerraPower, founded and chaired by Bill Gates, has a demonstration project in Kemmerer, Wyoming, which PacifiCorp hopes to duplicate in Emery County at the Hunter and Huntington coal-fired power plants.

Retiring coal-fired power plants need a replacement. These Western states may have the answer

Forget the images of huge, sprawling nuclear reactors. This type of plant occupies a much smaller footprint, can ramp up quickly or shut down with speed and use passive cooling systems. In addition, they are far less vulnerable to natural events like earthquakes or other disasters, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

PacifiCorp, serving Utah and other states in the West, has made plain its intention to pursue nuclear power generation as a path moving forward with the release of its Integrated Resource Plan earlier this year.

More renewable energy, advanced nuclear energy planned for the West

In response to the poll results, Dave Eskelsen, Rocky Mountain Power spokesman, said new base load energy sources are critical.

“While renewable resources such as wind and solar are growing rapidly, dispatchable, base load power is essential to providing reliable power to customers. Nuclear energy is the only large-scale, carbon-free electricity resource that can provide power at all hours. TerraPower’s Natrium advanced nuclear technology with energy storage is specifically designed to integrate into systems with high levels of variable renewables.”

There is also the Carbon Free Power Project which is slated to provide nuclear power to a consortium of customers in Utah and elsewhere, involving NuScale’s Small Modular Reactor technology. The site is planned at the Idaho National Laboratory.

Why Utahns should care about mysteries unlocked at Idaho nuclear research facility

Greg Todd, director of the state’s Office of Energy Development, said nuclear power presents a unique opportunity for Utah, but the technology needs to be proven, cost effective and reliable for the grid.

The poll results showed universal support for a nuclear power plant in Utah from those ages 18-24, with 0% opposed. As it broke down, 52% strongly are in support of a nuclear power plant, while 40% are somewhat supportive. The numbers in opposition climbed as those polled were older, with those 57 and up in strong support at 31% and 30% somewhat in favor.

That does not surprise retired Air Force officer Timothy Ohrenberger, 62, who said he has had conversations with friends who view nuclear power as a “boogeyman” of sorts. The Garden City resident does not feel that way.

“I am 100% in support,” he said. “It is the only clean, viable energy humans produce. ... Coal is dirty.”

View Comments

Like Cottam, his family has a background with nuclear energy — but in a different way.

His brother managed the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and is now involved in its decommissioning.

“People don’t understand how it works. How does the nuclear reactors produce electricity? They don’t. It produces heat, and then the heat boils water, then water turns to steam, and then steam spins a turbine and then the turbine spins an electric generator. That’s how it’s how done.”

Correction: In an earlier version of this story, the percentage numbers of residents somewhat and strongly opposed to a nuclear power plant in Utah were reversed. The correct numbers are 12% somewhat opposed and 19% strongly opposed.

Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.