Energy, Environment, Latest News, West Virginia Legislature

House Government Organization OKs bill to lift nuclear power ban; Senate version to be up for passage Tuesday

MORGANTOWN – The state’s ban on nuclear power plants took two more steps closer to repeal Monday.

The Senate version of the bill to lift the ban, SB 4, saw its second reading without amendment on Monday and will be on third reading for passage Tuesday.

The identical House bill, HB 2882, was subject to some discussion and opposition in the House Government Organization Committee on Monday but passed and will come to the House floor. It could see passage on Friday.

Both bills are only one sentence long and repeal the two sections of code passed in 1996 that imposed the ban.

Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, talked about the potential hazards of nuclear plants, citing the disasters at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima. She brought up a federal law, the Price-Anderson Act, which provides a system of financial protection for those who may be liable and those who may be injured by a nuclear incident. That puts taxpayers on the hook, she said.

Committee counsel said that advanced reactors under research and development are much different from those reactors.

As reported in The Dominion Post, presentations to legislators earlier this month discussed microreactors and small modular reactors that are cooled and operate differently.

Jason Wandling, with the Department of Environmental Protection, told the members that federal regualtions and agencies would have primary authority over the fuel source of nuclear plants. DEP would be responsible for air quality and construction permits.

Fleischauer pointed out that the code to be repealed sets conditions for the Public Service Commission to consider a nuclear plant application. They include economic feasibility for ratepayers, environmental safety and “a functional and effective national facility, which safely, successfully and permanently disposes of any and all radioactive wastes … has been developed and that such facility has been proven safe, functional and effective by a minimum of twenty-four months’ operation or experience.”

She said, “I think it’s really important to know what we’re doing. … I don’t see any reason to lift this ban right now when we have not solved the nuclear waste problem. I don’t see why we would do this without studying this in depth.”

Delegate Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, has said before he doesn’t stand behind a straight repeal bill – and added on Monday that he knows this one will pass. He has an alternative bill, HB 4305, which includes ratepayer protections and and allows utilities to refinance the capital balance on their coal plants that would be closed and replaced or repurposed with nuclear power.

“One of the things I find attractive about lifting the nuclear ban,” he said, “is the opportunity to perhaps site one of these plants where a current coal-fired power plant is located, should that plant shut down.”

That would help maintain existing jobs and create construction jobs, he said.

The bill passed in a voice vote, with a few votes against.

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