Kentucky lawmakers OK bill to explore nuclear

February 28, 2024, 12:02PMNuclear News

Kentucky’s Senate voted unanimously this week to create a state agency that would study opportunities to bring nuclear energy projects to the state, where coal production has long dominated the power sector.

Senate Bill 198 would establish the Kentucky Nuclear Energy Development Authority, attached to the University of Kentucky’s Center for Applied Energy Research and governed by an advisory board with members representing various stakeholder groups.


“Kentucky needs to continue forward with an all-of-the-above approach [toward energy sources],” said bill sponsor Sen. Danny Carroll (R., 2nd Dist.). “However, I also firmly believe that nuclear is the future of this commonwealth. And it’s imperative that this commonwealth stay in the forefront and not get left behind.”

Studying nuclear: The new nuclear authority would be a nonregulatory agency on issues related to nuclear energy and its development in Kentucky. It also would support development of a “nuclear energy ecosystem” meant to enhance the economy, protect the environment, support community voices, and prepare the future workforce.

S.B. 198 would set in motion a site suitability study to identify the best potential locations for nuclear reactors and related facilities. The authority would set criteria for a voluntary “nuclear-ready community” designation for areas open to siting a reactor or other nuclear-related facility.

An accompanying resolution, which also passed unanimously in the state Senate, would require the Public Service Commission to review the authority’s work to ensure readiness if the state is approached with a nuclear development.

The bill now moves to the House for consideration.

Longtime effort: Carroll, a self-described “nuclear geek, wants to see Kentucky well positioned to participate in a U.S. nuclear renaissance, which he believes is imminent.

In 2017, Carroll sponsored a bill that overturned the state's nuclear moratorium; and last year the General Assembly approved a joint resolution leading to the creation of the Nuclear Development Workgroup.

Lawmakers' interest in nuclear energy comes amid a dramatic decline in the state's once-massive coal industry. Louisville Gas and Electric Company/Kentucky Utilities Company (more commonly known as LG&E and KU), among other Kentucky utilities, has largely turned to natural gas and renewable energy as aging coal-fired power plants have reached retirement. Carroll pointed out during discussion on S.B. 198 that several coal plants in Kentucky have been identified as potential candidates for conversion to nuclear energy facilities.

Public acceptance: Carroll conceded that there is still much work to be done on educating Kentucky residents on nuclear energy. He said he’s received many messages from constituents with concerns about nuclear, often focused on the safety and long-term storage of nuclear waste.

Kentucky has a troubled history with radioactive waste. The infamous Maxey Flats site, a low-level radioactive waste storage site in Fleming County, and the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, a uranium enrichment site, were both ultimately designated as Superfund sites by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, warranting costly cleanup efforts.

“There is an increasing acceptance of nuclear energy production and its various facilities, jobs, and lower energy costs,” Carroll said. “As long as we clearly communicate that nuclear energy is just another tool in our energy portfolio, I think people are open and accepting of all its possibilities.”

Sen. Robin Webb (D., 18th Dist.) on Monday pointed to her ties to coal and how times have changed. She described herself as “a former coal miner who never thought she’d be on a nuclear task force.” Webb also said the state needs to embrace a diversified energy portfolio for years to come.

Energy landscape: Currently, 28 states have nuclear energy plants, and nuclear accounts for roughly 18 percent of the country’s electricity.

Kentucky is the fifth-largest coal-producing state, and it has more coal plants than any other state except West Virginia and Pennsylvania. The Bluegrass State also has 22 underground natural gas storage sites and relies on natural gas–fired power plants for 25 percent of its electricity.

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