CHARLESTON — Members of the West Virginia Senate were almost unanimous in their support on Tuesday for a bill to repeal the nuclear power ban.
The Senate voted 24-7 for Senate Bill 4, repealing sections of the state code prohibiting the construction of nuclear power plants in West Virginia. The bill is now heading to the House of Delegates, which is considering a similar bill.
Senate Speaker Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, first promoted the bill the week before the start of the 2022 legislative session at the West Virginia Press Association’s annual legislative analysis. Speaking after Tuesday morning’s floor session, Blair said he was pleased the bill had gained early support.
“I’m excited. Another impediment to economic development in the state of West Virginia,” Blair said. “You can’t ask for anything better than that.”
West Virginia’s ban on nuclear power plants has been in place since 1996 with limited exceptions. State law requires potential applicants to detail to the Public Service Commission how they would dispose of radioactive waste, the economic feasibility to state taxpayers, and show that a facility would comply with applicable laws and regulations. matter of environmental protection.
“All this bill does is say that we are open to discussion, that’s all. We are not closed-minded, said Senate Majority Leader Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, the bill’s lead sponsor. “I think it’s important for West Virginia to look to the future, to diversify, and to just say to the rest of the world that we are open to discussion if this technology comes to our Mountain State.”
Sen. Michael Romano, D-Harrison, remained skeptical of the bill and whether the state already had the ability in code to regulate future nuclear facilities.
“I don’t have any type of caveat on nuclear. I think nuclear power has become safe over the last few decades,” said Romano. “My concern is that I don’t think I received specific answers in committee when this was presented to the energy committee, even if I was in favour. We have eliminated, through this bill, the only clause that provides for oversight of nuclear energy through the Public Service Commission.
According to PSC testimony at committee meetings for the bill last week, the PSC and the Department of Environmental Protection already have rules and regulations in place to regulate nuclear energy. Any new nuclear power plant would also come under the authority of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
“The Public Service Commission has already testified that it has authority over all forms of electricity generation, so there is regulatory oversight in place,” said Sen. Chandler Swope, R-Mercer. “There is another section (of the state code) that covers disposal of radioactive material, so there is current legislation that addresses both of those issues.”
“Even if we didn’t have regulations, the federal government is literally thousands of people when you want to set up a nuclear power plant that involves regulating its construction, its construction, throughout its operation and everything. other,” Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Randolph, said. “It’s not like it’s going to be the Wild West of nuclear power without any regulation or oversight.”
Neither vote on the bill included Romano and Sens. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, Mike Caputo, D-Marion, Rupie Phillips, R-Logan, Randy Smith, R-Tucker, Dave Sypolt, R-Preston and Hannah Geffert, D-Berkeley, who worried about what the state would make nuclear waste.
“I am in no way against nuclear, but I am concerned about what we are going to do with the waste,” he added. said Geffert, whose father worked on the first nuclear power plant and the first nuclear submarine. “Currently, a lot of waste is stored onsite at nuclear power plants across the country in barrels, which doesn’t seem like a sensible solution.”
One of the driving forces behind the push to repeal the nuclear power ban has been the recent announcement that North Carolina-based Nucor will build a new steel mill in Mason County. Nucor uses electric arc furnaces instead of coal furnaces to produce steel products. The company is known to seek contracts with clean energy companies to supply electricity to their furnaces.
“This bill makes us a leader in terms of being all of the above in terms of our energy sources,” said Senate Minority Whip Michael Woelfel, D-Cabell. “I know that the Nucor Corporation asked us what our future plans might be, and this would be a step, in their opinion, in the right direction to allow nuclear energy as a source of energy.”
Nucor set a target in July to reduce greenhouse gas production at its steel mills to 77% below the global steelmaking average by 2030.
“The green economy is built on steel”, Nucor President and CEO Leon Topalian said in a press release. “As North America’s electric arc furnace steelmaker and largest recycler, Nucor is already a global leader in sustainable steel. Our (greenhouse gas) intensity is less than a third of the global average, but we are committed to going further. Steel will continue to be a vital material for our nation’s economy, and Nucor is proving that it can be produced sustainably to help the world meet its climate goals.
The House of Delegates considers Bill 2882, which is also a repeal of the ban on nuclear power plants. The bill has been recommended for passage by the House Energy and Manufacturing Committee and the House Government Organization Committee, which sent the bill to the full House on Monday.
The Chamber will hold a public hearing on HB 2882 on Friday, January 28 at 10 a.m. in the chamber of the Chamber.