Kentucky energy plan calls for nuclear rethink

21 November 2008

The US state of Kentucky, which currently has a moratorium on the construction of nuclear power plants, has unveiled its first-ever comprehensive energy plan. The plan calls for nuclear to be considered as part of the state's future energy mix.

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The plan - entitled Intelligent Energy Choices - outlines seven strategies to meet Kentucky's energy needs while protecting the environment and reducing greenhouse gas emission. One of the strategies calls for the use of nuclear power for electricity generation in Kentucky to be examined.

The plan sets a target of 2025 for implementing the proposals, which include reducing energy consumption by making homes and businesses more efficient and promoting solar, wind and hydro power. It also calls on the state to encourage industries to convert coal into liquid fuels.

Kentucky's energy use is projected to grow by slightly more than 40% by 2025 under a business-as-usual scenario. The document says, "Just as we will experience growth in our demand for energy, our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will escalate if we continue down the same path. With such a high reliance on fossil fuels, Kentucky's projected GHG emissions could be more than 40% higher than they are today if we do not take action. With implementation of the seven proposed strategies, however, our GHG emissions will be more than 50% lower in 2025 than they would otherwise be. More significantly, GHG emissions in Kentucky will actually be 20% lower in 2025 than were our 1990 emissions."

The plan says, "To find solutions that address climate challenges, use our abundant natural resources to gain energy security, and provide the power needed to drive our economy will require pursuit of a diversified mix of energy options. In weighing the benefits and limitations of potential solutions we must be willing to assess and understand the societal, technical, and financial trade-offs involved." It adds, "Nuclear power is one such option that deserves our full attention, as its technology and safety have significantly improved in the last three decades. It also is likely to become a national priority."

A suggestion put forward by the plan is that "a moderate investment in nuclear power (eight plants at four sites) could be considered as part of an overall strategy to diversity Kentucky's future electrical energy portfolio, reduce emissions, and position the state to take advantage of advanced coal conversion opportunities. Kentucky could utilize nuclear power to generate a significant percentage of the state's energy needs, with coal-based and nuclear power for electricity generation being roughly equal."

State governor Steve Beshear told Associated Press, "We must begin the discussion now about whether nuclear energy should be part of our energy portfolio." He added, "It is a very expensive proposition to get into, although it ends up, depending upon the economy, being a cost efficient way of producing electricity."

The publication of Kentucky's plan comes as President-elect Barack Obama pledged to make energy a centrepiece of his administration. He has set a target of reducing US greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and reducing them by a further 80% by 2050, with nuclear energy being used alongside other clean energies.

Legislative changes needed

Following the accident at Three Mile Island in 1979, Kentucky was one of several US states to introduce legislation essentially preventing new nuclear power plants being constructed. Kentucky law states that a power reactor cannot be certified by the state's Public Service Commission (PSC) unless a disposal site for high-level waste (HLW) either already exists or would be available by the time that plant needs disposal capacity. In addition, the cost of HLW disposal must be "known with reasonable certainty."

Kentucky's new energy plan suggests, "Legal hurdles to successful inclusion of nuclear energy in Kentucky's energy mix should be examined. Specifically, removal or revision of the legislative ban on new nuclear power plants must be addressed."

During the 2008 legislative season, two bills were introduced that would remove the moratorium. The new energy plan notes that these proposed bills did not make it out of committee, but revised versions will likely be reintroduced soon.

The plan notes, "Many of our neighbouring states are considering nuclear energy. Nuclear power production has no direct carbon dioxide emissions and is already a significant component of the global energy system." However, it adds, "While the issue of disposal of spent fuel has not been completely resolved, progress will continue to be made to arrive at a solution that addresses the nation's needs."