The Senate Energy Committee held two hearings this week where nuclear energy was the topic of conversation. In addition to hearing presentations from advocates for nuclear energy, the committee also considered three bills that could change the state’s position on new nuclear projects.
The first of the three bills has been around for decades but is making another appearance in 2022. If passed it would remove the moratorium on issuing a certificate of need for new nuclear-powered generating plants. The moratorium was originally passed by the Legislature in 1994. Supporters of the legislation argue that nuclear energy should be an option available as part of the energy mix if the state hopes to achieve 100% carbon-free energy; however, opponents to lifting the moratorium maintain that the state still hasn’t found a viable solution for storing nuclear waste, which threatens the health and safety of communities and the environment. Additionally, the cost of nuclear energy projects is relatively high, so many consumer advocates do not feel this technology is a viable option for clean energy that ratepayers can afford.
Another bill focuses on preventing exemptions from the moratorium for small-scale nuclear power plants. Under the bill, small-scale facilities are defined as those that generate 100 megawatts or less. Small nuclear technology is a relatively new development in recent years, with the first small nuclear reactor having been approved by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission only as recently as 2020. While arguments for smaller-scale projects focus on the smaller up-front capital required for the projects and flexibility for both the scaling and location of projects, the same concerns around environmental and health impacts and community safety remain.
The last of the three bills would provide $150,000 to the Department of Commerce for a study on advanced nuclear technology. This proposal could be considered by some as a compromise between those who want to bring more nuclear energy to the state and those who feel existing concerns with nuclear energy need to be more thoroughly discussed and analyzed by experts before repealing the moratorium in all or in part. The study would be required to analyze different potential costs and benefits to advanced nuclear technology, including the impact on greenhouse gas emissions reductions goals, ratepayer costs and system reliability, and the impact on jobs and the environment. A report would be due to the Legislature in January 2023.
The first two bills related to the nuclear moratorium were sent directly to general orders for a vote of the full Senate, and the third bill to study the issue will be heard next in Senate Finance. (SF 225, SF 4082, SF 4163)