Kentucky is on the cusp of doing what was once unthinkable: opening the door to nuclear power.

FILE - In this Oct. 16, 2014 file photo, fog hovers over a mountaintop as a cutout depicting a coal miner stands at a memorial to local miners killed on the job in Cumberland, Ky. The Republican-controlled Kentucky state legislature is on the cusp of lifting its decades-long moratorium on nuclear energy, a move unthinkable just three years ago in a state that has been culturally and economically dominated by coal. As the coal industry continues its slide, even Republican lawmakers are acknowledging a need for alternatives.

Above: FILE – In this Oct. 16, 2014 file photo, fog hovers over a mountaintop as a cutout depicting a coal miner stands at a memorial to local miners killed on the job in Cumberland, Ky. The Republican-controlled Kentucky state legislature is on the cusp of lifting its decades-long moratorium on nuclear energy, a move unthinkable just three years ago in a state that has been culturally and economically dominated by coal. As the coal industry continues its slide, even Republican lawmakers are acknowledging a need for alternatives. David Goldman, File AP Photo

By ADAM BEAM Associated Press

FRANKFORT, Ky.

Donald Trump promised to bring back coal jobs, but even the country’s third-largest coal producer appears to be hedging its bets on a comeback. Kentucky is on the cusp of doing what was once unthinkable: opening the door to nuclear power.

The Republican-controlled state legislature is close to lifting its decades-long moratorium on nuclear energy in a state that has been culturally and economically dominated by coal. Politicians from both parties have promised for years to revive the struggling coal industry, with Trump famously billing himself as “the last shot for miners.” But as the coal industry continues its slide, even Republican lawmakers are acknowledging a need for alternatives.

“There are other factors other than the administration in the White House that controls this. There are banks that are reluctant at this point to give loans for coal-fired furnaces,” said Republican state Sen. Danny Carroll, who sponsored the bill. “You look at the jobs that were lost, you look at the production of coal and how that has declined, we’ve got to learn lessons from that and we’ve got to have a third option.”

Kentucky’s coal industry has been steadily declining for decades. Coal mining employment has fallen from 31,000 in 1990 to just over 6,300. Just three years ago, coal-fired power plants provided 93 percent of the state’s electricity. Today, that has fallen to 83 percent, according to the Kentucky Coal Association, as older plants are being shut down and replaced by natural gas.

Kentucky is one of 15 states that restrict the construction of new nuclear power facilities according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Wisconsin lifted its ban last year. Nationwide, there are 61 nuclear power plants with 99 nuclear reactors in 30 states, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The bill has passed the state Senate and could get a vote in the House of Representatives on Tuesday

Republican Gov. Matt Bevin told Cincinnati radio station WKRC he would not veto the bill if it makes it to his desk.

“I don’t see it as a threat to that existing energy infrastructure. I see it as just increasing the opportunities of things we might be able to do in Kentucky,” he said.

The bill has been pushed by local government and business leaders in the western part of the state, which was home to one of the few uranium enrichment plants in the country before it closed in 2013. That left the area teeming with a skilled workforce with no hope of employment in their field.

“Without that moratorium lifted, we absolutely have no opportunity,” said Bob Leeper, the judge executive for McCracken County and a former state senator who has pushed to lift the moratorium for years.

But Kentucky has been burned by the nuclear industry in the past. In the 1960s, seeking to lure the emerging nuclear energy industry into the state, Kentucky set up a place to store toxic waste. From 1963 to 1977, more than 800 corporations dumped 4.7 million cubic feet of radioactive waste at the site, but no nuclear reactor was ever built. The Maxey Flats site is closed, but its contaminated soil, surface water and groundwater resulted in an expensive state and federal cleanup.

“This is the Faustian bargain we engage in. We get cheap energy, but we saddle future generations with millennia responsibility of being mature enough to properly manage waste we are generating,” said Tom Fitzgerald, executive director of the Kentucky Resources Council, which has opposed lifting the moratorium.

Even if the ban is lifted, a nuclear power plant could still take more than 10 years to develop given the rigorous permitting process. And construction would be expensive, which would threaten to drive up electricity rates to pay for it. That is of particular concern to the state’s manufacturing sector, which uses large amounts of electricity in their production processes.

The bill requires state officials to review the state’s permitting process to ensure costs and “environmental consequences” are taken into account. That was enough for Fitzgerald to be “neutral” on the bill.

The Kentucky Coal Association is also neutral, although president Tyler White said they were not happy with the bill.

“We think there are more realistic policies that we should be pursuing in Frankfort than nuclear,” he said.

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STOP the F/G Fracking in Kentucky! Send the message now!

 

Governor Beshear, the General Assembly and the Energy and Environment Cabinet (EEC) are seeking comments on how the Commonwealth should move forward with regulating the oil and gas industry — including fracking. Around the country, fracking has been known to create toxic air pollution, contaminate drinking water and lead to health problems in communities near fracking sites.

 

¹ Tell Governor Beshear’s administration that regulations won’t protect the people of Kentucky from the consequences of fracking.

 

Fracking, formally known as hydraulic fracturing, is the destructive process of extracting oil and gas from deep underground by injecting millions of gallons of fracking fluids — a mixture of chemicals, water and sand — into a well at high pressure to crack open underground rock formations and release oil and gas.

Since the early 2000s, fracking has been growing rapidly across the country, producing massive volumes of toxic waste, causing accidents, leaks and spills that threaten drinking water, and releasing hazardous air pollution. It has also created explosion risks in homes, marred landscapes and fragmented forests, damaged roads with heavy truck traffic, and lowered property values. Take a stand against fracking in Kentucky.
Over the last six months, New York and Maryland both rejected moving forward with fracking after damning health reports showed that the health risks posed by fracking were too high. If it’s not safe in those states, then it’s not safe here, either.

Send a message to your lawmakers: Kentuckians don’t want to be part of an uncontrolled public health experiment.

Fracking isn’t safe for our communities, and it only prolongs our destructive reliance on fossil fuels. We can meet our energy needs with clean, renewable resources. Instead of spending time trying to regulate a polluting industry, the Governor, the General Assembly and the EEC should put their efforts into energy solutions that don’t poison human health, damage local economies or trash the environment.

 

Speak out and submit your comment against fracking today.

 

Thanks for taking action,

Renée Maas
Senior Southern Region Organizer
Food & Water Watch
rmaas(at)fwwatch(dot)org


1. Toward an understanding of the environmental and public health impacts of shale gas development: an analysis of the peer reviewed scientific literature, 2009-2014, PSE Health Energy, December 10, 2014.