Lawmakers to consider bill for building new nuclear plant

? As the state tries to chart an energy course, Kansas lawmakers will consider a measure aimed at providing incentives to build a nuclear power plant.

The legislation – HB 2038 – is one of numerous proposals in the hopper on energy issues, which has become a major topic for the 2007 Legislature.

A public hearing on the measure is scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday before the House Energy and Utilities Committee.

State Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, a member of the committee, said there are no plans currently to build a nuclear plant in Kansas.

The bill, he said, “is a recognition that as we look at energy independence for the state, nuclear, renewable energy and coal all have a place,” Sloan said.

He added that for the first time in years, “there are noises nationally of restarting this nation’s nuclear program.”

Driving that in part is the rising cost of fossil fuels and the health implications of building new plants powered by climate changing sources, such as coal. State officials currently are reviewing a request to build three 700-megawatt coal-fired plants in western Kansas.

The legislation would exempt from property taxes any new nuclear generation or new facility at the Wolf Creek nuclear plant near Burlington.

The owners of Wolf Creek, which started operating in 1985, have recently applied for a 20-year extension of its operating license, but say there are no plans to build additional capacity there.

“We are not looking at any kind of expansion at Wolf Creek,” said Gina Penzig, a spokeswoman for Westar Energy, which owns 47 percent of the plant. “The capital costs are just too large for a utility our size.”

An extension of the plant’s license would extend the facility’s use from 2025 to 2045.

Sloan said if nuclear energy becomes economically and politically feasible, then the legislation would help lay the groundwork for an effort to expand nuclear power.

While many countries have increased dependence on nuclear power, nuclear energy development practically halted in the United States because of the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant in Pennsylvania and the problem of where to store high-level nuclear waste.

Wolf Creek officials have said the plant site has enough space to store its waste through 2025, and hope that by then the federal government will have approved a national storage site. However, a proposed nuclear waste site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada has been stalled for years by environmental groups and Nevada officials.

Bill Griffith, president of the Kansas chapter of the Sierra Club, said the group is adamantly opposed to nuclear energy.

He said the expense of nuclear power and the unresolved issue of a permanent storage site make it untenable.

“So much can be done with efficiency and renewables,” Griffith said. “We have just barely touched energy efficiency and wind. Why even talk about nuclear?”