SALT LAKE CITY -- The state of Idaho took center stage Monday at an international conference, as Gov. Butch Otter spoke to hundreds of people from around the world, highlighting Idaho's role in nuclear energy.
The conference in Salt Lake City was organized by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and focused on how to extend the life of nuclear power plants.
In the U.S., there are 104 nuclear power plants that provide about 19 percent of the nation's electricity. Most were constructed in the 1960s and 1970s, but have received license extensions to operate for 60 years. People from 37 different countries are converging on Salt Lake City to learn how to do the same.
"They're here to find out what they can do in their 37 countries, to extend the life of a large capital investment," said Gov. Otter.
Otter served as a speaker and an ambassador from Idaho at the conference. He also touted the Idaho National Laboratory -- one of, if not, the pre-eminent nuclear lab in the world.
"We will be doing some research and development," said Otter. "We'll certainly be doing some consulting with all these countries at Idaho Falls."
A nuclear watchdog group says the conference is misfocused. The Snake River Alliance believes, with the disaster in Fukushima and accidents at INL last year, that there should be more focus on safety.
"If there is any sort of accident or concern then that affects the entire globe," said Liz Woodruff, the Executive Director of the Snake River Alliance. "It can result in entire swaths of land being uninhabitable, and it can result in death in the short term and death in the long term from radioactive exposure. And those are things that we simply can't accept."
Otter responded by saying, "The accidents that we have had across the world, in most cases, with the obvious exception of Chernobyl, they were operational problems. We immediately learned from them and haven't had those problems again."
But the Snake River Alliance believes those involved in nuclear research could do more by turning their attention elsewhere.
"If that energy, and that money, and those resources could go to re-thinking our infrastructure for our transmission grids, getting renewable energy online, thinking about battery storage, and going for that low-hanging fruit of energy efficiency, that's where we're going to get true energy security that doesn't have those unacceptable risks, like nuclear power," said Woodruff.
The governor believes that nuclear is a very clean type of energy. He says that nuclear represents 70 percent of the cleanest energy in the U.S..
Idaho is actually the birthplace of peaceful nuclear power. Back in 1951, at the INL, the very first usable amounts of electricity were generated by a nuclear reactor.