Ky. Senate passes resolution to establish nuclear energy development working group
A joint resolution passed in the Kentucky Senate last week would see the creation of a nuclear energy development working group in the state.
Senate Joint Resolution 79 – which passed unanimously on March 2 – was filed by Republican Sen. Danny Carroll of Benton.
A release last week from Kentucky’s Senate Majority Caucus said the resolution would “initiate state efforts in nuclear energy production” – potentially helping the state meet its energy needs more efficiently and bolstering economic development and job creation by making the state more attractive to the nuclear industry.
The western Kentucky Republican has consistently sought ways to push nuclear energy in the state.
“If we don't aggressively move on this, folks, we're gonna fall behind and we're gonna pay the price for this in the future,” Carroll said. “Everybody wants coal to be a baseload source of energy in our Commonwealth for as long as we can, but the reality of it is it's declining. And we need to be prepared for the next generation so we are not left behind.”
He spearheaded another resolution in 2022 seeking data on the feasibility of large-scale nuclear energy products in the state. Now, he’s urging his fellow lawmakers to pass this resolution and to further consider nuclear energy options to become Kentucky’s baseload energy providers – plants that operate constantly to meet the minimum level of power demand.
Carroll’s concern about an impending energy crisis is one shared by fellow lawmakers. The Senate voted earlier this week to preserve aging coal plants, which a recent report indicated are retiring faster than new resources are being brought online.
While addressing the Senate Floor, Carroll made references to multiple ongoing nuclear efforts outside Kentucky: Bill Gates’ TerraPower company’s plans to build a plant in Wyoming and ease the state’s reliance on coal; the Tennessee Valley Authority’s intentions to construct a small modular reactor at its Clinch River site in Tennessee; and Virginia’s $10 million investment to grow its nuclear industry through efforts in innovation.
This resolution comes six years after the passage of a bill lifting the moratorium on newly constructed power facilities in Kentucky. That bill was also put forth by Carroll and he feels not enough has happened to push nuclear power in Kentucky since.
“Over recent years, we have seen the interest in nuclear energy explode, not just throughout this country, but throughout the world,” Carroll said. “We decided to form a working group to get us where we needed to go, to study the issues on the technology that would be acceptable for our Commonwealth and not just looking at the idea of bringing nuclear energy to the Commonwealth – but also focusing on nuclear industry.”
Carroll represents Ballard, Carlisle, Livingston, Marshall and McCracken counties. McCracken is the site of the former Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant. Uranium enrichment ceased at the plant in 2013. Now, the facility is one of 11 Environmental Protection Agency Superfund Priority sites in the state – meaning it’s of “national priority among the known releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants.”
Environmental advocates – including leadership with both the Kentucky Conservation Committee and the Kentucky Resources Council – expressed support for the resolution this week.
Kentucky Conservation Committee director Lane Boldman said “it’s time to look at the question again” in the state and whether the new technologies that have been developed in recent years “live up to the promises or not” in terms of producing safer, low carbon electricity. She also emphasized the importance of the proposed working group looking at how nuclear developments could impact marginalized communities.
“Technologies do change and evolve. So I think the request to have a team to start looking at all those questions, I think is a fair thing to do,” Boldman said. “Now, there's still a lot of concerns about nuclear and we need to explore if any of the new technologies have any promising opportunities within there. For us, the concern is always what is the impact to the communities? Who is being impacted by any of the potential waste? Or some of the long standing issues that have been around the nuclear industry, safety and waste?”
Tom FitzGerald, a lobbyist with the Kentucky Resources Council, echoed Boldman in a statement Tuesday, saying the environmental advocacy group supports the resolution “so that a broad ranging review of nuclear technologies and nuclear power can be undertaken in a multi-stakeholder manner.”
“KRC believes that issues of long-term radioactive waste disposal, safety, security, high cost relative to other sources of electrical generation, weapon proliferation, and life-cycle carbon impacts of mining and enriching nuclear fuel, remain significant challenges to increased deployment of nuclear energy for power generation, and we look forward to the exploration of these issues by the working group,” FitzGerald said.
The working group – according to the resolution – would be administratively attached to the Energy and Environment Cabinet and consist of 23 members, including utilities representatives from across the state, environmental advocates, nuclear experts, lawmakers and Kentucky industry representatives.
Its main duties would consist of identifying the barriers to deploying nuclear power in the state, developing recommendations for how a permanent nuclear energy commission could address those barriers and consulting with state, federal and local agencies as well as nonprofits and stakeholders groups on the role of a permanent nuclear energy commission. This group would then have to create and submit a report of their findings to the Legislative Research Commission by this coming December.
The resolution now moves to the Kentucky House of Representatives.