Gov. Gary Herbert visits S.L. high school to discuss nuclear energy

Published: Tuesday, March 22 2011 5:04 p.m. MDT

Gov. Gary Herbert works with students Caitlin Chandler, center, and Alex Diamond at Granite Peaks High School.

Laura Seitz, Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SOUTH SALT LAKE — When forming an opinion about the world's big issues, there aren't many high school students who ask the governor to weigh in. But Sydnie Ross at Granite Peaks High did just that, and the result was her new perspective on nuclear energy.

A class debate earlier this term created an enthusiasm for more information in Sydnie that would eventually bring Gov. Gary Herbert to her classroom. Sydnie and her classmates were arguing the pros and cons of nuclear power.

"I just had a really big opinion about how I thought it was bad," she said.

For a social media class project, she decided to interview a University of Utah professor to get more information about the science behind the issue. Sydnie then spoke with an official from Blue Castle Holdings, a private company seeking a nuclear plant in Green River, to get informed about the motives.

"Now I knew what I was talking about and could make an informed decision," she said.

Then it was on to the governor for the big-picture perspective.

Herbert spent about 35 minutes Tuesday answering Sydnie's questions in her school's auditorium while her classmates listened in. Granite Peaks is an alternative high school in the Granite School District.

"Why do you think we need a nuclear power plant in Utah?" Sydnie asked from her table opposing his on the stage. "What kind of feedback from the public are you getting?"

Herbert talked about the pros and cons, saying it wasn't his intention to be an advocate for nuclear energy but rather to create a conversation.

"The governor is pro-nuclear power discussion," he said.

Herbert discussed water and waste issues, as well as efficiencies and environmental benefits. Despite a "Star Trek" reference, students in the audience seemed to understand his explanation of the complicated issue.

The recent earthquake in Japan and the potential for similar problems in Utah should a plant be built helped inform Sydnie's opinion, she said. Also, cleaner air is really important.

"I'm totally for (nuclear energy), as long as we don't get huge earthquakes," she said.

Herbert visited a few classrooms, complimented the students and urged them to vote.

"I'm honored to be here, and I appreciate the significant role you play in Utah's future," he said.

Herbert said his favorite part of the job is working with young people, and it was important to him to make the appearance — especially since the questions Sydnie wanted answers to are the same questions many Utahns have.

"They deserve an opportunity to talk to the governor just like other elected officials," he said.

Sydnie's teacher, Michael Nelson, said he didn't think the governor's office would respond to her request, he but encouraged her anyway.

"I said, 'Yeah, go ahead. Good luck with that,'" Nelson said.

He was impressed the state's executive leader took the time to talk to students, saying that lesson was even more important than the knowledge they gained Tuesday about nuclear power.

"I think it was really good for the students to see that they can reach out to public officials and then get a response," Nelson said. "I think that's the biggest deal."

e-mail: mfarmer@desnews.com

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