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House panel hears arguments for and against lifting nuclear ban during public hearing

MORGANTOWN — The House Government Organization Committee heard arguments for and against the bills to lift the ban on nuclear power during a Friday public hearing.

SB 4, one of the two bills to repeal the two sections of code imposing the ban, will be on third reading for passage on Monday. The House twin bill, HB 2882, is parked on the regular House calendar — a holding tank for bills on pause or being left to die — so the House can pass SB 4.

Chris Hamilton, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, was among those opposing the bills. About 90% of the state’s power comes from coal, he said, and rates are 20% lower than the national average. Coal miners and power plant workers are part of their communities. “They are certainly not the enemy.”

Congress is contemplating large nuclear subsidies, he said, which will be used to supplant coal power. “West Virginia doesn’t need more power.” Any new sources will replace coal, miners and power plant workers.

At the least, he said, the bill should be amended to protect coal assets.

Hannah King, with the West Virginia Environmental Council, read a statement for Gary Zuckett, with the West Virginia Citizens Action Group, who could not attend.

Zuckett said he lobbied for the 1996 legislation that imposed the ban. The legislation says that the Public Service Commission may not approve a nuclear plant application until a “functional and effective national facility which safely, successfully and permanently disposes of any and all radioactive wastes associated with operating any such nuclear power plant, nuclear factory or nuclear electric-power-generating plant has been developed and that such facility has been proven safe, functional and effective by a minimum of twenty-four months’ operation or experience.”

That hasn’t happened yet, Zuckett said. There’s an additional danger of terrorist attacks.

The Legislature should, he said, put the bills on hold and conduct an interim study.

Pam Nixon, with the West Virignia NAACP, said the repeal is not needed for conducting discussions. Instead, a special committee could be formed to draft regulatory legislation.

Neal Barkus is president of Conservation West Virginia. He said they support nuclear power, but only if it’s well-regulated. The bills go the wrong way by stripping out any safeguards. There’s no rush. The Legislature should instead direct the PSC to develop rules for how nuclear plant applications should be handled, and give the PSC a couple years to work on it.

Speaking for the bills, Rebecca McPhail, president of the West Virginia Manufacturers Association, said WVMA supports all-of-the-above and -below energy.

Nuclear offers an affordable, reliable and clean energy source for consumers and adds a clean energy option to the mix, she said. And nuclear offers stability and security in energy markets.

Perry Bryant, a Kanawha County resident, said legislators should consider amending in provisions of HB 4305 — by Delegate Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia — to make utilities whole if they can’t feasibly operate their coal-fired plants and need to transition.

Meghan Hutchinson, senior associate for radiological emergency preparedness (REP) with the Olson Group — an emergency preparedness consulting firm — said the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires an REP program before a plant license can be granted, and the REP plan must take in a 50-mile zone.

No one can guarantee 100% safety, she said, but the safety community appreciates the jobs they do and they do them well.

Brian Dayton, with the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber supports the bills and their potential to improve economic development and job-creation opportunities. They remove barriers to progress.

TWEET David Beard @dbeardtdp