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Business, environmental groups split on lifting West Virginia nuclear ban

Business groups and environmental groups were split, even among themselves, during a public hearing over removing West Virginia’s ban on nuclear energy production.

Chris Hamilton

West Virginia Coal Association President Chris Hamilton said the legislation under consideration would strike a blow against the coal economy that has long powered the state. He said West Virginia coal producers have long worked to keep the power grid stable and prices low.

“Today, they wake up to news that nuclear power is coming to West Virginia,” Hamilton said today, urging lawmakers to amend the bill to include protections for coal.

But representatives of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce and West Virginia Manufacturers Association support a policy that could lead the way to nuclear power production.

Brian Dayton

Brian Dayton of the Chamber said that organization supports a diverse energy portfolio.

“We support legislation that is going to improve economic development opportunities and job creation opportunities in West Virginia,” he said. “The technology is rapidly evolving, the time is now.”

Rebecca McPhail

Rebecca McPhail, executive director of the West Virginia Manufacturers Association, said the organization favors an “all-of-the-above” approach to energy production.

“Our state has a rich history of production,” she said. “Nuclear power can provide stability and security in our energy markets.”

The state Senate has already passed SB 4, which would strike down decades-old code prohibiting nuclear energy production in the state. Progress on the bill in the House of Delegates was paused today, allowing time for the public hearing. Delegates could pass the bill next week.

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.

Supporters of removing the ban have cited technological progress such as  cited small modular reactors, which can generate power at just a fraction of the size of a conventional nuclear power reactor.

Perry Bryant

Environmental advocates, like the business groups, expressed differing views today.

Longtime activist Perry Bryant expressed support, seeing the small reactors as opportunities to produce less waste. “No one in the United States is planning to build another Three Mile Island or a generator that size,” he said.

Gary Zuckett

A letter on behalf of Gary Zuckett of the West Virginia Environmental Council expressed reservations, saying he was among the lobbyists pushing for the ban when it passed in 1996. He said the concerns about safety and nuclear waste expressed in the original ban still remain.

Zuckett said lawmakers should put the bill on hold and take more time to study the issue.

“If we’re gonna open up West Virginia to nuclear power, let’s do it with proper regulations and safeguards,” Zuckett wrote.

Lucia Valentine

Lucia Valentine, also with the environmental council, called for legislators to carefully consider the possible effects of the bill. “How will nuclear waste be disposed of and managed?” she asked.  “How will citizens be allowed to voice their concerns if one were to go into their community?”

Pam Nixon

Another longtime activist, Pam Nixon of Institute, said the West Virginia NAACP opposes lifting the ban. Nixon said there’s no reason to hurry toward a policy change. “Repealing the ban will remove the safety valve protecting West Virginia and leave a void,” Nixon said.

Neal Barkus

Neal Barkus of Conservation West Virginia expressed support for nuclear power if it’s well-regulated. But he said the West Virginia legislation is “a step in the wrong direction on the regulation front.”

“What is the rush to repeal this law?”

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