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    WV House to fast-track Senate-approved bill lifting state restrictions on nuclear power plant construction


    January 27, 2022 - Mike Tony, The Charleston Gazette-Mail, W.Va.

     

      Jan. 26—The West Virginia House of Delegates has fast-tracked a bill already approved by the Senate aimed at easing nuclear energy development in the state.

      The House of Delegates on Wednesday moved Senate Bill 4 to a first reading scheduled for Thursday, bypassing committee consideration and putting the measure on track for House approval Monday.

      SB 4 would lift state restrictions on nuclear power plant construction. The bill passed the Senate in a 24-7 vote Tuesday.

      The House Government Organization Committee will host a public hearing Friday at 10 a.m. or after the House floor session concludes on the House's identical version of SB 4 — House Bill 2882.

      State code holds that the use of nuclear fuel and power "poses an undue hazard to the health, safety and welfare" of West Virginians and bans nuclear facilities unless the proponent of a facility can prove that "a functional and effective national facility, which safely, successfully and permanently disposes of radioactive wastes, has been developed."

      State code requires that construction of any nuclear facility must be economically feasible for ratepayers and comply with environmental laws.

      The code also mandates that the West Virginia Public Service Commission approve construction or initiation of any nuclear power plant, nuclear factory or nuclear electric power generating plant.

      West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection General Counsel Jason Wandling has said his agency likely would have primary authority over a nuclear plant's air and construction permitting to ensure proper stormwater planning.

      Wandling said the DEP does not have regulatory authority over nuclear waste production or storage and that the federal government likely would have such authority over nuclear fuel sources.

      The Public Service Commission could still determine the economic feasibility of nuclear plant construction proposals as provided for in code that SB 4 and HB 2882 would repeal given construction and siting certification requirements for such projects, House Energy and Manufacturing Committee counsel Robert Akers said last week.

      West Virginia was one of 13 states that had restrictions on the construction of new nuclear power facilities, as of August, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

      Kentucky, Montana and Wisconsin have ended restrictions on nuclear construction, with other states considering following suit.

      Bills usually pass through at least one committee prior to advancing before the House or Senate for consideration by the full chambers. SB 4 has bypassed that step and is now slated for a first reading in the House Thursday.

      The first reading of a bill informs Legislature members that the bill will be discussed. On second reading, committee recommendations and amendments proposed by individual members are considered and acted on. Debates and votes on the bill occur during its third reading. The readings typically take place on successive days.

      HB 2882 has advanced through the Energy and Manufacturing and Government Organization committees and its second reading before the full House is slated for Thursday.

      Proponents of lifting the state's restrictions say that it will allow for an alternative electric energy source and a new option for economic growth in coal communities by offering potential for repurposing coal plants.

      Opponents say advanced nuclear is not a clean, quick, safe or inexpensive option for providing electricity. They say wind, solar and geothermal energy are more cost-effective options for fending off the worst potential effects of climate change and have expressed concerns about nuclear waste storage and the potential for catastrophic nuclear accidents.

      The debate over West Virginia's potential nuclear future has focused on small modular reactors.

      Small modular reactors are advanced nuclear reactors capable of up to 300 megawatts of electrical output designed to produce power, process heat and desalinate on locations not suitable for larger nuclear plants while requiring less capital investment than bigger facilities.

      The technology is not yet market-ready. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved its first design for a small modular reactor in August 2020 for what Portland, Oregon-based developer NuScale Power said would be a 60-megawatt power plant.

      The U.S. Department of Energy has approved cost-share awards to develop small modular reactors that can be operational by the end of the decade.

      Nuclear industry representatives pitched advanced nuclear energy development — including repurposing former coal plants as nuclear sites — as a path toward economic growth to members of the interim Government Operations and Government Organization committees earlier this month.

      Mike Tony covers energy and the environment. He can be reached at 304-348-1236 or mtony@hdmediallc.com. Follow @Mike__Tony on Twitter.

      ___

      (c)2022 The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, W.Va.)

      Visit The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, W.Va.) at www.wvgazette.com

      Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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