Topeka The Kansas utility that has been pushing for construction of a controversial coal-fired electric power plant is also promoting development of nuclear energy.
Hays-based Sunflower Electric Power Corp. has joined a consortium that supports the construction of smaller commercial nuclear reactors and the regulatory changes needed to bring them to market.
“Sunflower’s board is pretty visionary. We are always investigating new technology,” Sunflower spokeswoman Cindy Hertel said Friday.
The consortium includes a number of utilities promoting a proposal by Babcock & Wilcox Co. to build small nuclear reactors that can be built in factories and then shipped to sites. Babcock, based in Charlotte, N.C., now makes small reactors for the Navy.
Babcock got a big boost in its effort this week when leading engineering company Bechtel Corp. announced it would partner with Babcock to develop the 125-megawatt plants that would be housed underground.
The alliance is being called Generation mPower. “The formation of Generation mPower is a turning point in the nuclear power plant industry,” said Jack Futcher, president of Bechtel’s power business. Futcher said the alliance hopes to advance development of nuclear power with the first plant deployed as early as 2020.
Sunflower Electric’s Hertel emphasized the consideration of nuclear energy is in the beginning stages. “We’re just part of a consortium that says this is a viable technology that needs to be pursued,” Hertel said.
Sunflower Electric currently is seeking a permit to build an 895-megawatt coal-fired plant in Finney County. Public hearings on that project are scheduled next month in Overland Park, Salina and Garden City. Under the proposal, most of the power would be sold to out-of-state customers.
Environmentalists have been opposed to nuclear energy. The Kansas chapter of the Sierra Club said Sunflower’s energy needs don’t merit consideration of either a new coal-fired plant or nuclear unit.
“If we’re thinking about what’s in the best interest of ratepayers, new nuclear and coal capacity is not the least cost option, and that’s exactly why there aren’t new coal and nuclear plants being built now,” said Stephanie Cole, a spokeswoman for the Kansas chapter of the Sierra Club.