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Senate bill, joint resolution continue push to make Ky. nuclear-ready

A new bill introduced in the Kentucky Senate this week would create a group to support the development of nuclear energy in the state.

Senate Bill 198 would formally establish the Kentucky Nuclear Energy Development Authority, which would be administratively attached to the University of Kentucky’s Center for Applied Energy Research.

Senate Joint Resolution 140, also brought forth this week, calls for the state’s Public Service Commission to prepare for the process of regulating applications for the siting and construction of nuclear energy facilities in Kentucky.

The bill – sponsored by Republican state Sen. Danny Carroll of Benton – outlines how the authority would be governed and its role in Kentucky’s nuclear energy ecosystem. Primarily, it would function as a nonregulatory state agency on nuclear energy issues and development, though it would also “support and facilitate” the growth of the state’s nuclear industry.

This would include assisting communities with understanding advanced nuclear opportunities; providing information on the state’s history with nuclear technologies; and being a facilitator for nuclear energy economic development, among other duties.

Its governing advisory board would be composed of 20 voting members and six non-voting members, including national nuclear group representatives, energy and environmental experts, educators, utilities representatives, commercial industry advocates and federal, state and local government officials.

The bill also stipulates that the Cabinet for Economic Development create and implement a financial assistance program for the development of nuclear projects in the state, including utility and private sector economic development.

The resolution points to the promise of new nuclear technologies – including small modular reactors – to help meet Kentucky’s needs for new baseload power generation. This need to maintain the resiliency and reliability of the state’s electric grid will get stronger as coal plants are retired in order to keep up with the Biden administration’s goal of achieving a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035.

Around 20% of electricity in the U.S. comes from nuclear power, according to Department of Energy statistics. Not so for Kentucky, which still runs on coal. According to the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, 69% of the power generated in the state comes from the legacy fossil fuel.

Both pieces of legislation have been referred to the Senate’s Natural Resources & Energy Committee.

The measures follow years of effort from the western Kentucky lawmaker to remove barriers to nuclear power generation in the state.

Kentucky’s legislature passed a ban on the storage of spent nuclear fuel in the state in 1984. That moratorium – which prevented the creation of new nuclear reactor sites – came to an end after more than three decades in 2017 with the passage of the Robert J. Leeper Act, named for the former state senator from Paducah.

Carroll, who represents Leeper’s former district, sponsored the bill that ended the moratorium.

He also sponsored a joint resolution in 2023 to create a nuclear development working group in the state. That working group then developed a report released in December that identified no “insurmountable barriers to nuclear energy development” in Kentucky and laid out the potential structure and mission of this proposed authority. The report did identify “cross-cutting issues” like education, workforce development and trust building as potential stumbling blocks.

The working group report recommended an initial state budget appropriation for the authority of around $750,000, though it also said that number would go up in subsequent years.

While Kentucky currently generates no nuclear power, its neighbor states are pursuing multiple nuclear developments.

Illinois is home to a nation-high 11 nuclear reactors, and has the highest total nuclear nameplate electricity generation capacity in the country. Lawmakers in Illinois lawmakers approved legislation in November to advance the development of small modular reactors in the state. Meanwhile, Tennessee could soon be home to the nation’s first mini nuclear power plant.

Source: WKMS Radio Station