Kentucky legislature sends nuclear bills to governor

March 28, 2024, 7:00AMNuclear News

Kentucky’s Republican-majority legislature passed a bill this past week that could bring nuclear energy to the “coal-is-king” state as lawmakers broadly seek solutions to reduce carbon emissions. The bill went to Democratic Gov. Andrew Beshear on Monday for final approval.

Senate Bill 198 aims to lay the foundation for nuclear development by establishing 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.

A second and related measure, Senate Joint Resolution 140, would instruct the Kentucky Public Service Commission to review the work of the authority to ensure readiness for nuclear development in the state. It was also approved and sent to the governor for final signoff.


GOP state senator Danny Carroll—longtime champion for the nuclear measure—said Kentucky needs to embrace a cross-section of energy sources, including coal, natural gas, and renewables.

Quotable: Upon passage of the nuclear bill, Carroll said, “Kentucky is one step closer to the day when nuclear energy will take its place in Kentucky’s all-of-the-above energy portfolio. It is my belief that in the future, nuclear energy will be the primary source of baseload energy in our country, and it is critical that the commonwealth begin preparations for that future, as we continue to utilize coal, gas, and renewables.”

Part of the mix: Advocates for the bill touted the complementary—not competitive—benefits nuclear generation could bring to the Bluegrass State.

While Kentucky still relies on coal for 68 percent of its energy, that figure has declined drastically from the 90 percent that coal previously supplied to the state. Over the last two decades, coal plants closed due to cheaper natural gas prices and stricter federal environmental scrutiny. That has led to a sharp decline in coal jobs, from nearly 12,000 miners in Kentucky in 2013 to roughly 4,700 at the end of 2023.

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. Several coal plants in Kentucky have been identified as potential candidates for conversion to nuclear energy facilities.

The passage of pronuclear legislation comes on the heels of the announcement of a $1.3 billion hydroelectric facility to be built on the site a former coal mine site in southeastern Kentucky, funded in part by President Biden’s $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law. Once built, the coal-to-pumped storage hydropower facility will generate enough energy to power about 67,000 homes.

What’s next? S.B. 198 would set in motion a site suitability study to identify the best potential locations for nuclear reactors and related facilities, allowing the Kentucky Nuclear Energy Development Authority to designate “nuclear-ready communities.” The measure aims to support development of a “nuclear energy ecosystem.”

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