A bill removing the ban on construction of new nuclear power plants in the US state of West Virginia has been approved by both the Senate (by 24 votes to seven on 25 January) and the House of Delegates (by 76 votes to 16 on 31 January). It will now go to the state's governor for signature. The ban has been in place since 1996.
Senate Bill 4 repeals two clauses in Chapter 16 (Public Health) of the West Virginia Code (1931) - Article 27A-1 and Article 27A-2 and would lift that ban.
Article 16-27A-1 had said the Legislature “finds and declares that the use of nuclear fuels and nuclear power poses an undue hazard to the health, safety and welfare of the people of the State of West Virginia, especially until there is an effective method to safely and permanently dispose of the radioactive wastes generated thereby”.
It continued: “Therefore, it is the intent of the Legislature and the purpose of this article to ban the construction of any nuclear power plant, nuclear factory or nuclear electric power generating plant until such time as the proponents of any such facility can adequately demonstrate that a functional and effective national facility, which safely, successfully and permanently disposes of radioactive wastes, has been developed; that the construction of any nuclear facility in this state will be economically feasible for West Virginia rate payers; and that such facility shall comply with all applicable environmental protection laws, rules and requirements.”
Article 16-27A-2 had said no nuclear power plant, nuclear factory or nuclear electric power generating plant may be constructed or initiated until the Public Service Commission has approved the application. Moreover, an application would only be considered if it contained “documented reports or certification” that:
* 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; and
* The construction of any nuclear facility in this state will be economically feasible for West Virginia rate payers.
According to the West Virginia legislature's report, the chair of the House Government Organisation Brandon Steele said removing the ban did not "implement anything" and it would take "years" before any nuclear power would built in the state. Repealing the ban would allow for a "conversation" on cost, regulations, and other details to take place.
Proponents expressed support because nuclear is a carbon-free energy source and will allow for the economic diversity of the state. Opponents were concerned with regulations and cost. Steele acknowledged that many discussions remain about the complications of nuclear energy, including safety provisions, transportation, taxation and other matters. “What we’re answering today is, are we willing to talk about it? Yes or no. It’s simply a repeal. It builds nothing. It spends nothing. It’s wrong to foreclose the possibility of talking.”
Much of the discussion on the bill had focused on possibilities from small modular reactors (SMRs) with supporters pointing to advances in technology. “The nuclear power plants that they are designing today are much safer, much more efficient. They’re actually smaller than the units that were producing back in the 70s and 80s and about half the size,” said delegate Guy Ward, noting that he had worked at power plants for more than 33 years. “I prefer coal over nuclear, of course, but we need these additional plants because take a 2500MW out of your system, that really makes your grid fragile. We need to take this ban away because nuclear is safe.”
Those against lifting the ban were mainly concerned about radioactive waste. Delegate Ed Evans, minority chairman of the House Energy and Manufacturing Committee, said he had some familiarity with nuclear power plants. “I worry about disposing the waste. I’m a scientist. I understand it….I’m not for this and I certainly hope that we don’t experience a Fukushima…. And that waste does not go away tomorrow. It does not go away next week, next year, next decade. It’s around for hundreds of years.”
Delegate Kayla Young said she considered herself an environmentalist and “this is a super exciting day for clean energy in West Virginia”. She said opening the door to an energy source with fewer emissions is a rational approach. “This effort has been bicameral, it’s been bipartisan and I’m very, very excited about the future,” she said.
Delegate Mark Zatezalo said he is comfortable with the safety of modern nuclear technology and believes the energy source could be helpful for the state’s economy. “The track record is good, and we need to be in the game,” Zatezalo said. “It is prudent to be an all-in state.”
Photo: Wheeling in the US state of West Virginia. The state has banned construction of new nuclear power plants since 1996