Kentucky Senate Votes to Lift Nuclear Moratorium

Published March 6, 2010

A bill in the Kentucky House that has already passed the Senate would remove legal obstacles to nuclear power plant construction in the state. House approval would eliminate a 25-year moratorium on nuclear power plant construction.

S.B. 26 was introduced by Sen. Bob Leeper, an independent, on January 5 and passed the Senate Natural Resource and Energy Committee by a 9-1 vote on Jan. 13. It passed the Senate by a 27 to 10 vote on January 20.

Removes Disposal Site Obstacle
The bill lifts requirements that all new nuclear power plants have access to a permanent radioactive waste disposal site. Because no such facilities exist in Kentucky and the proposed federal site at Yucca Mountain has been stalled by the Obama administration, the effect of the requirement has been to block nuclear power plant construction.

S.B. 26 would allow for on-site nuclear waste storage as long as storage arrangements comply with federal standards.

Governor Supports Bill
If the House also passes the bill, Gov. Steve Beshear (D) is expected to sign it.

“The governor is in favor of the bill,” said Kerri Richardson, Beshear’s chief spokesperson.

A similar bill passed the state Senate last year but was stopped on the House floor after members declined to bring it up for a vote. Rep. Rick Rand (D), chairman of the state House Committee on Appropriations and Revenue, where S.B. 26 now sits, was not available to comment on the bill’s chances for passage, according to his office assistant.

The Kentucky Legislative Research Commission—a bipartisan fact-finding service of the state legislature—has identified nuclear power as one of the key challenges facing the General Assembly this year.

Coal Dominates State’s Power
Coal powers 92 percent of electrical generation in Kentucky. Nuclear power is more expensive than coal, but some legislators would like to see nuclear emerge as a supplementary, emissions-free power source.

Passage of S.B. 26 would not bring immediate change to the state’s power mix, said Karen Wilson, chief of staff for the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet.

“What lifting the moratorium would do in a nutshell … is that if a utility were interested in constructing a nuclear power plant, they could propose to build it,” Wilson said. “But for any facility to be actually constructed, that would be many years off.”

The construction plan would have to adhere to federal licensing requirements and meet “all the requirements that go into site plans,” including permitting, zoning, and facility development, Wilson said.

How the voting public feels about the issue is largely an unknown at this point, Wilson says. Energy and Environment Cabinet members have proposed holding public hearings on the bill “to see what people in Kentucky think,” she said.

Cheryl K. Chumley ([email protected]) writes from Northern Virginia.