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Legislature fast-tracks bill to end decades-old nuclear energy production ban

House Speaker Roger Hanshaw says West Virginia is ready for a sliver of its energy production to be nuclear.

Roger Hanshaw

“One of the things we know is technology evolves, and as technology evolves new opportunities come on the horizon that didn’t exist a generation or two ago,” Hanshaw said today on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”

“Nuclear is certainly one of those. We’ve in an environment now in which technology is evolving really quickly, and many of the companies that are expanding their facilities around the world are looking at how they’ll generate power, not just in the next decade but in the next century.”

Hanshaw cited small modular reactors, which can generate power at just a fraction of the size of a conventional nuclear power reactor.

“We want to make sure we’re positioned as the state to let companies who want to take advantage of that evolving technology to be able to do so,” Hanshaw said.

Legislation that would open the door to more nuclear energy production is making its way through both the Senate and House of Delegates.

Senate Bill 4, which would end West Virginia’s decades-old ban on nuclear energy production, is up for a passage vote Tuesday in that chamber.

And another version of the same bill, House Bill 2882, was weighed Monday afternoon by the House Government Organization Committee. That committee passed the bill to the full House of Delegates.

The text of the bill is less than a page.

“Be it enacted by the Legislature of West Virginia: Repeal of the article banning construction of nuclear power plants.”

West Virginia instituted a ban on nuclear power production in 1996, with a law that addresses concern about waste disposal along with questions over economic feasibility.

Barbara Fleischauer

Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, expressed concerns about liability as the House Government Organization discussed repealing the ban. Fleischauer said she served in the Legislature when the ban was first instituted.

“One of the things that concerns me are the nuclear accidents that we’ve had,” Fleischauer said.

She voted no, saying, “I don’t see a reason to lift this ban right now when we have not solved the nuclear waste problem. I don’t see why we would do this without studying it in depth.”

Evan Hansen

Delegate Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, described a new generation of nuclear power plant using different technology from the big nuclear plants that people might envision.

“I think they deserve a look,” Hansen said last week on “Talk of the Town” on WAJR Radio. “I believe they are somewhat safer than the old-school nuclear plants. But like any kind of power source, there’s pros and cons. They still do generate nuclear waste.”

Hansen suggested the small nuclear reactors could be a way to address the coal-fired power plants that are nearing the end of their production.

“Coal-fired power plants have been shutting down across the country and in West Virginia. And more will shut down in West Virginia, over the coming years,” he said. “There are opportunities to repurpose these power plants into nuclear generation sites.”

Hanshaw described nuclear production as an additional energy opportunity for the state, but he said that energy sector is unlikely to replace traditional fossil fuels for base energy production.

“Our fossil industry is going to continue to power West Virginia and the country for the foreseeable future. We do need to make sure we’re providing options,” he said.

“The fossil industry is not gonna go away any time soon. We’ve got to have baseload power. We just want to be sure that the signal we’re sending to the world is yeah, consider West Virginia.”

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