The West Virginia House of Delegates wants to know what the public thinks about lawmakers’ plans to go nuclear.
The House Government Organization Committee will host a public hearing in the House Chamber in Charleston at 10 a.m. Friday on House Bill 2882, which would lift state restrictions on nuclear power plant construction.
House Bill 2882 is under consideration by the full chamber after advancing through the Energy and Manufacturing and Government Organization committees.
The Senate passed an identical bill Tuesday without holding a public hearing on the measure. Senators voted 24-7 to approve Senate Bill 4, which positions West Virginia to follow other states that have moved to encourage nuclear development amid the nation’s energy transition despite opponents’ concerns about nuclear waste and safety.
State code holds that the use of nuclear fuel and power “poses an undue hazard to the health, safety and welfare” of West Virginians and bans nuclear facilities unless the proponent of a facility can prove that “a functional and effective national facility, which safely, successfully and permanently disposes of radioactive wastes, has been developed.” State code requires that construction of any nuclear facility must be economically feasible for ratepayers and comply with environmental laws.
The code also mandates that the West Virginia Public Service Commission approve construction or initiation of any nuclear power plant, nuclear factory or nuclear electric power generating plant.
West Virginia was one of 13 states that had restrictions on the construction of new nuclear power facilities, as of August, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Kentucky, Montana and Wisconsin have ended restrictions on nuclear construction, with other states considering following suit.
Proponents of lifting the state’s restrictions say that it will allow for an alternative electric energy source and a new option for economic growth in coal communities by offering potential for repurposing coal plants. Opponents say advanced nuclear is not a clean, quick, safe or inexpensive option for providing electricity. They say wind, solar and geothermal energy are more cost-effective options for fending off the worst potential effects of climate change.
The debate over West Virginia’s potential nuclear future has focused on small modular reactors.
Small modular reactors are advanced nuclear reactors capable of up to 300 megawatts of electrical output designed to produce power, process heat and desalinate on locations not suitable for larger nuclear plants while requiring less capital investment than bigger facilities.
The technology is not yet market-ready. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved its first design for a small modular reactor in August 2020 for what Portland, Oregon-based developer NuScale Power said would be a 60-megawatt power plant.
The U.S. Department of Energy has approved cost-share awards to develop small modular reactors that can be operational by the end of the decade.