Can coal state Kentucky embrace nuclear energy?

In the 1980s the Kentucky legislature enacted a law, as one of the leading coal states in the county, which said, in effect, “nuclear energy, drop dead.” Nearly four decades later the state may be on the path to reversing the moratorium and with that action, gaining new jobs for the Paducah uranium site.

On September 19 the State’s so-called “Energy Czar” Len Peters was joined by State Rep. Gerald Watkins in a presentation to the Kentucky General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Economic Development and Tourism. Watkins wants to create momentum for legislative action in 2016 that would allow nuclear energy to be part of the state’s long term energy plan. This will be the third time Watkins has made a run at passing overturning the anti-nuclear moratorium.

coal counties in kentucky

Map courtesy of Kentucky Coal County Coalition

The current law says that Kentucky cannot allow a nuclear power station to be built within its borders until the US has a central, permanent respository to dispose of spent nuclear fuel. The law as passed with support of coal interests, which didn’t want the competition, and green groups, who saw it as an opportunity to put a cork in the genie’s bottle.

Watkins said that the meeting with the Joint Committee went well, especially because at the heart of his proposal is a requirement that only the Paducah site would be eligible for siting a nuclear reactor. The facility was original built to support the enrichment of uranium to fuel the first atomic bomb. Rep. Watkins, who spoke with Peters, represents the Paducah area. Previous efforts by Watkins didn’t limit siting options to Paducah which was closed two years ago.

Construction of a new nuclear power plant the size of TVA’s Watts Bar II would create 3,000-5,000 construction related jobs and at least 600-800 permanent high paying jobs once a reactor was in revenue service. Watkins said the average economic impact of the country’s nuclear power plants on their local communities is around $470 million every per year.

Kentucky Governor Beshear is on record supporting the change to the law and a similar measure previously passed in the State Senate. Now Watkins and his supporters have to convince legislators from the coal counties in the eastern half of the state to go along with the plan.

According to wire service reports, Watkins said he expects his bill will get support in the Democrat-led House in next year’s legislative session. He said, having support from lawmakers in coal-producing districts makes him optimistic given the industry’s past opposition to lifting Kentucky’s nuclear moratorium.

“We’re having conversations with some of those people to let them know, and that’s why I brought it up in my remarks today, that nuclear power is not a competitor of coal,” Watkins told the Pure Politics media channel.

Watkins points out to his colleagues that the state is at an economic disadvantage relative to is neighbor to the south. Tennessee is home to several reactors run by TVA and to the north Ohio has two more.

Tougher environmental rules that limit carbon emissions are only going to make coal fired plants that generate electricity more expensive in the long run.

Also, Watkins is a pragmatist when it comes to the issue of spent fuel. Unlike the greens who see the issue of disposal of spent fuel as a leverage point to prevent new reactors from being built, Watkins told the news media in Frankfort, KY,

“There is no reason for Kentucky to ignore this option simply because the federal government refuses to make a decision regarding waste disposal.”

Watkins appoint to NCSL Nuclear Task Force

Recognizing the role he and his legislative district have played in Kentucky’s contribution to the nation’s nuclear industry, Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo has appointed state Rep. Gerald Watkins of Paducah to the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Nuclear Legislative Work Group.

“Nuclear energy is a crucial component of our country’s energy portfolio and is poised to grow in the years ahead,” Rep. Watkins said. “This committee will help me better understand what steps Kentucky will need to take to continue having a seat at that table.”

NCSL is the nation’s only organization dedicated solely to state legislatures, and in 1992, it formed the Nuclear Legislative Work Group, which is comprised of legislators from select states involved in nuclear energy and its waste management.

At the meetings, the working group will hear federal updates from the U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE), discuss the latest policy issues and share information taking place within their respective states.  DOE originally formed the group to address issues associated with its environmental cleanup program which includes the Paducah site. DOE also talks with the members of the group about opportunities to re-use DOE sites.

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Dan Yurman ~ The Twitter feed is a hiatus due to the turmoil on that platform. The news feed of nuclear energy headlines can be found on Mastodon at: ~ About this blog and disclaimers for NeutronBytes ~ ~ Contact Me ~ neutronbytes [at] gmail [dot] com ~ Text via Signal 216-218-3823 ~ I am NOT active on Facebook, Reddit or Instagram. Attempt no landings there. ** Header Image Credit: ~ ** Emails sent by readers about blog posts are considered to be comments for publication unless otherwise noted. ** The content of this blog is protected by copyright laws of the U.S. "Fair use" provisions apply. The RSS feed is for personal use only unless otherwise explicitly granted.
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