A growing number of states are taking action to clear a path for the possible development of nuclear power.
In February, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice signed into law a bill that lifts the state’s ban on the construction of nuclear power plants, following similar action by other states in recent years. In 2016, Wisconsin repealed a moratorium on the construction of new nuclear facilities within the state and Kentucky took similar action a year later.
Meanwhile, since the start of this year, a number of state legislatures have considered or taken action related to legislation related to nuclear power including small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs).
“Right now, between state legislation being introduced and new nuclear projects underway in states like Tennessee, Washington, Wyoming and Idaho, nuclear energy is being discussed in half of the country with the majority considering policies that will directly impact the industry,” said Christine Csizmadia, director of state governmental affairs and advocacy at the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI). “The appetite to learn more about nuclear energy technology is clearly there and continuously increasing,” she said.
Csizmadia said that there are various motivations behind these policies. “Many states are recognizing nuclear’s role in decarbonization while others are looking at new nuclear for the potential economic impacts and reliability. We are seeing bills that range from prioritizing the state’s existing nuclear plants, like in New Jersey and Illinois to bills aimed at maintaining grid reliability, like in West Virginia, which recognize nuclear as a potential asset.”
A Nebraska Senate Committee in February considered a bill that would use pandemic relief funds to conduct a feasibility study on siting options for nuclear reactors.
The bill, LB1100, would appropriate $1 million of the American Rescue Plan Act funds allocated to Nebraska to the state Department of Economic Development for use by a political subdivision that owns or operates a nuclear plant in the state to conduct a feasibility study.
The study would assess siting options for new, advanced nuclear reactors throughout Nebraska and existing electric generation facilities based on key compatibility assets for such reactors, according to the Nebraska Legislature’s Unicameral Update.
Daniel Buman, director of nuclear oversight and strategic asset management at Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD), testified in support of the proposal on behalf of NPPD and the Nebraska Power Association, which represents all of Nebraska’s public power utilities.
Meanwhile, in another Midwest state, lawmakers in Indiana in February passed a bill, Senate Bill 271, that amends the statute governing certificates of public convenience and necessity that are issued by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) for the construction, lease, or purchase of electric generation facilities.
The bill would require the IURC, in consultation with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, to adopt rules concerning the granting of certificates for the construction, purchase, or lease of SMRs:
- In Indiana for the generation of electricity to be used to furnish public utility service to Indiana customers; or
- At the site of a nuclear energy production or generating facility that supplies electricity to Indiana retail customers on July 1, 2011.
The bill is now on the desk of Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb for further action.
In other recent action, Republican Oklahoma State Sen. Nathan Dahm recently introduced legislation (Senate Bill 1794) that would direct the state’s Department of Environmental Quality to conduct a study focusing on the feasibility and establishment of nuclear facilities in cooperation with the Office of the Secretary of Energy and Environment on or before January 1, 2024.
Upon completion of the study, the bill requires that a report be submitted to the President Pro Tempore of the Oklahoma Senate, Speaker of the Oklahoma House, Governor, the Chair of the Senate Energy Committee, and the Chair of the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee no later than February 1, 2024.
In early February, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, a Republican, introduced Senate Bill 177, which will allow communities across Alaska to explore new opportunities related to microreactors.
The bill defines a microreactor according to the federal definition contained in the Infrastructure, Investment, and Jobs Act. This means a reactor that produces no more than 50 MWe and meets the standards of an “advanced nuclear reactor” as defined in federal code.
It also creates an exemption for microreactors from the requirement that the Legislature approve of each microreactor siting.
SB 177 was referred to the Alaska Senate Resources and Senate Community and Regional Affairs committees.
In Colorado, the Colorado Senate State, Veterans, & Military Affairs on Feb. 17 voted to indefinitely postpone action on a bill, SB22-073, that called for a study regarding the feasibility of using SMRs as a carbon-free energy source for the state.
“As other states begin lifting their moratoriums, such as West Virginia, or actually initiating small modular reactor projects, such as Wyoming, Colorado is left behind,” said Colorado State Sen. Bob Rankin, a Republican, in a statement issued after the committee’s action.
Rankin sponsored the bill.
Other States Have Also Taken Action In Recent Years
The recent wave of state legislative activity follows on the heels of action taken by a number of other states in recent years.
For example, in early 2021, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte signed into law H.B. 273, which eliminated restrictions on nuclear power development in the state. The bill was sponsored by Montana Rep. Derek Skees, a Republican.
Also last year in Montana, a joint resolution sponsored by Montana Sen. Terry Gauthier, a Republican, was filed with the State Secretary of State that requires a study that will look at the feasibility of advanced nuclear reactors as a replacement for coal-fired boilers, specifically the state’s Colstrip coal-fired power plant.
The joint resolution noted that SMRs “employ passive safety and innovative designs that can provide electrical input in the range of 250 megawatts to 500 megawatts by exchanging heat between coolant and a steam generator.”
The joint resolution requires that all aspects of the study, including presentation and review requirements, be concluded prior to Sept. 15, 2022.
In neighboring Wyoming, Gov. Mark Gordon in 2020 signed a bill into law that required the state’s Environmental Quality Council and Department of Environmental Quality to promulgate rules regarding the permitting of SMRs.
The law provides a $5.00 per megawatt hour tax on the production of electricity from nuclear reactors in Wyoming. It exempts from taxation government owned nuclear reactors, electricity produced for the producer's consumption and test or demonstration reactors. There is an offsetting credit for any property tax paid that is associated with a nuclear reactor.
The reactors can be used to replace coal or natural gas electric generation on the sites of those facilities, and the facilities cannot have a greater rated capacity (whether through one reactor or multiple reactors) than the existing capacity of the coal or natural gas electric generation facility.
In November 2021, TerraPower announced Kemmerer, Wyoming, as the preferred site for a Natrium reactor demonstration project.
Bill Gates is TerraPower’s Chairman of the Board.
The demonstration plant is intended to validate the design, construction and operational features of the Natrium technology. The project features a 345 MW sodium-cooled fast reactor with a molten salt-based energy storage system.
The storage technology can boost the system’s output to 500 MW of power when needed. The energy storage capability allows the plant to integrate seamlessly with renewable resources, according to TerraPower.
Public Power Pursues Advanced Nuclear Power Projects
For its part, a number of public power utilities are pursuing advanced nuclear power technology.
The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Board of Directors on Feb. 10 approved a programmatic approach to exploring advanced nuclear technology.
TVA said that as part of the development of innovative, cost-effective technologies that will achieve TVA’s aspiration of a net-zero carbon energy future, advanced nuclear is one of several technologies TVA is investigating.
Carbon Free Power Project, LLC (CFPP), a wholly owned subsidiary of Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, continues to advance the development and deployment of its first-of-a-kind small modular reactor nuclear plant at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory near Idaho Falls, Idaho.
CFPP successfully and safely completed field investigation activities at the site in January 2022, a major milestone for the project.
In 2021, NuScale Power and Washington State’s Grant County Public Utility District announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to evaluate the deployment of NuScale’s SMR technology in Central Washington State.