Janet Kline said she hopes the nuclear plant disaster in Japan does not cause the United States to back off using that power source.

“In the long run, I think nuclear power is the right choice,” the Sun City resident said.

“It’s the most efficient energy source we have,” she said. “The danger of explosion seems pretty rare. What happened in Japan happened as a result of an earthquake and a tsunami. I have to think we don’t have to worry about something like that happening here.”

Still, with the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station not far from the West Valley, plant officials and government leaders have built a $13.5 million center that will help them respond and share information with the public.

The 32,000-square-foot Energy Education Center, about 20 miles east of the plant, also will allow operators to schedule drills and plan emergency responses.

“The more we pre-plan, the better prepared we will be and the better we’ll be able to communicate to the public in case of an emergency,” said Randall Edington, the plant’s chief nuclear officer.

Arizona Public Service runs the plant on behalf of several power companies.

The new center, which opens April 8, will house an Emergency Operations Facility now at the plant and a Joint Information Center found at the Papago Military Reservation in Phoenix.

“We wanted to combine the two facilities to really help us with facilitation and flow of information,” said Monica Ray, the plant’s director of emergency preparedness and security.

A room at the center can stream live images of Palo Verde. Another is set up to allow executives and local and national personnel to prepare a plan of action.

There’s a 222-seat auditorium where plant officials and government leaders can brief the media and tell residents what they need to do.

Kline said “there are pluses and minuses to any energy source you choose. With nuclear power, I think it’s worth what risk there is.”

Jim Winegardner, another Sun City resident, said he is not buying into any suggestions that nuclear energy should be de-emphasized because it’s unsafe.

“As far as I’m concerned, nuclear energy is the only way this country can go,” he said. “It’s the safest, it’s the friendliest. It produces more power and it does it cheaper. It’s certainly better than, say, coal plants.”

Edington said the center will open while Japan grapples with a nuclear emergency spawned by a devastating tsunami and the challenges of getting information to the public.

“You will see constant and almost immediate information updates, which we’re not getting from Japan,” he said.

Members of the Arizona Corporation Commission toured the facility Monday as they geared up for a public hearing Tuesday at which Palo Verde officials were to discuss procedures they would take in case of an emergency at the plant.

“This facility is really the key in educating the public as to what their course of action should be should God forbid something occurred at the Palo Verde plant,” said Commissioner Bob Stump, who recently wrote a letter requesting that Palo Verde officials explain their emergency procedures.

“People want information and they want it quickly and of course it needs to be accurate,” said Gary Pierce, chairman of the commission.

Commissioner Paul Newman said the center is essential to being ready for an emergency.

“There’s always a chance of an accident occurring and to have a good communication center is very important in our modern new cycle where people are learning every second new developments,” he said.

Winegardner said he is not worried about any potential disaster at Palo Verde.

“The Three Mile Island incident was a terrible error, but it’s in the past,” he said. “Realistically, there are no other options that can do what nuclear energy can do.”

Jeff Dempsey may be reached at 623-876-2531 or jdempsey@yourwestvalley.com.

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