Kentucky Bills Would End Moratorium on Nuclear Power Plant Construction

Published May 1, 2008

Three Kentucky legislators have introduced legislation in the state House and Senate to end a 25-year moratorium on nuclear power plant construction in the state.

The moratorium was enacted in 1984 and banned the construction of any new power plants until a national containment facility for spent nuclear fuel becomes operational.

Yucca Mountain in Nevada is the designated national storehouse for spent nuclear fuel. Although the U.S. Department of Energy reports an extremely safe Yucca Mountain facility can be operational within a decade, political and legal maneuvering by nuclear power opponents has put the facility in limbo.

Becoming More Attractive

Although no licenses for the construction of any new nuclear power plants have been issued since the 1970s, several factors are making nuclear power a more attractive option.

Technological advances make nuclear power more cost-competitive with coal, especially with recent moderate increases in coal prices. Next-generation nuclear power plant design, such as pebble bed reactors, makes nuclear power an inherently safe technology with no realistic threat of safety breakdowns.

Pressure by environmental activist groups for reduced greenhouse gas emissions also makes nuclear power more politically acceptable than in years past. Nuclear power is currently the only economically feasible option for zero-emission power production.

Making State Competitive

With at least 25 applications now in the pipeline for nuclear construction licenses in states other than Kentucky, state Sens. Bob Leeper (I-Paducah) and Charlie Borders (R-Russell) and state Rep. Steven Rudy (R-West Paducah) have sponsored the companion Senate and House bills that would open Kentucky for modern nuclear technology.

The legislators propose replacing the requirement of a national spent fuel facility with a requirement that any new nuclear power plant comply with all federal safety standards.

Leeper emphasizes Kentucky should be on an equal footing with other states as energy companies roll out new nuclear power plant proposals.

Growing Environmentalist Support

Though the idea is still controversial, many environmental groups are starting to believe nuclear power is a viable option for replacing or supplementing coal- and gas-powered energy plants. In a state like Kentucky, where 90 percent of electricity is generated from coal, environmental groups are especially receptive to nuclear power.

“The scope of the problem requires us to look at all of the options,” Tony Kreindler, spokesman for the environmental activist group Environmental Defense, told the Courier Journal.

Dr. Jay Lehr, science director of The Heartland Institute, believes states would be wise to do more than just “look at” nuclear power as an option.

“Nuclear power is in fact the proven energy of the future, and we should never have taken a three-decade hiatus in building nuclear plants while the rest of the world continued doing so,” Lehr said.

“There are now 444 nuclear power plants in the world, and there has never been a single fatality in any of them,” Lehr noted. “Add to that America’s 200 nuclear-powered ships plying the oceans of the world the past 50 years without a single accident, and you have clearly one of the safest forms of energy in the world.

“Nuclear power is much more economical than wind and solar power,” said Lehr, “and we have virtually an unlimited world supply. If the United States begins to reprocess its fuel rods as every other nation of the world does, we will reduce our waste by 95 percent.

“The Kentucky legislature has an opportunity to remove an archaic barrier to the construction of nuclear power plants,” Lehr continued. “Some 231 new nuclear plants around the world are already in some stage of planning and construction.”

E. Jay Donovan ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.