Kentucky is one of the states where current law precludes the construction of a new nuclear power plant until there is a licensed and available location for permanent disposal of used nuclear fuel. Kentucky is also the site of the only currently functioning uranium enrichment plant in the country, the USEC operated Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.
Kentucky state Sen. Bob Leeper has been doing some reading and listening lately about the coming of a new wave of nuclear plant construction, and he is working to position his state as a potential site for consideration. He has recently introduced a bill that would change the language in the law to allow licensed on site storage as a means of safely handling the byproducts that remain after using fuel in a reactor for a period of time. (As regular listeners know, I simply cannot call that material “waste”. It contains far to much energy value and other rare materials with unique physical properties. It is illogical to bury it, making it harder for the eventual time when it will be recycled and reused.)
Here is the explanation that he gives when questioned why he is sponsoring the bill:
Leeper said there could be an estimated 25 to 30 applications for new nuclear plants within the next three years. Kentucky could make itself more attractive as a potential location to nuclear companies, Leeper said.
The state could encourage new investment and try to land new jobs in the process, Leeper said.
“My goal is to try to get Kentucky at least on the radar screen for a company that’s looking,” Leeper said.
I like that in a political leader – recognize opportunities and lay the legal groundwork in advance. Leeper has some allies in his state, including many of the people associated with the Paducah enrichment facility, which happens to be in his district and also from a number of unions that represent people who would build and operate any new nuclear plant in the state.
Rob Ervin, president of the United Steelworkers Local 550 in Paducah, said nuclear facilities have advanced their technology since the 1980s. Technology has advanced to prevent nuclear accidents similar to what occurred at Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986, Ervin said.
“We have come a long way since then,” Ervin said.
Of course there are also cries from the opposition crowd. In an Op-Ed piece titled Risky coal-for-nukes tradeoff Joseph Mangano, executive director of the Radiation and Public Health Project, a research and educational group based in New York, used some loaded phrases to discourage people from supporting a change in Kentucky law. Quoting from the lead and the conclusion to his piece:
Lead: – The Kentucky legislature is considering a proposal to overturn a 1984 ban on building nuclear reactors in the state. Supporters see nuclear power as an important way to reduce dependency on coal for electricity, without adding to the global warming problem. But a coal-for-nukes swap may represent nothing more than replacing one environmental hazard with another.
Conclusion: – Kentucky already has the highest cancer death rate of any state in the nation. There is no need to increase cancer risk by introducing a hazardous means of producing electricity. Replacing coal to limit global warming should not be based on another toxic product. Instead, it should feature conservation, more efficient products and safe renewable forms of energy, such as wind, solar and geothermal power, to protect public health.
Some people would read those words and take them at face value as a criticism of both nuclear power and coal. Those readers might not realize just how pro-coal much of the influential population in Kentucky is. The way I read it, Mr. Mangano is calling out to those people to become his allies against nuclear power. I know it sounds a bit convoluted, but that is the way that many functioning alliances work – they are marriages of convenience against a common enemy.
Apparently Senator Leeper’s bill is finding some supporters, however. It was approved by the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee by an 8-1 margin on March 6, 2008 and will be considered by the full Senate.