On paper, Kentucky has a ban on nuclear power plants. That’s still the case. But a new law opens up new ways for nuclear energy to be used in the Commonwealth. One of the things House Bill 559 allows is the re-enrichment of depleted uranium tails. But the legislation doesn’t go very far to help the one facility in the state that has been waiting for federal approval to re-enrich uranium tools.
Georgann Lookofsky is a spokeswoman at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant. The facility has been seeking federal permission to re-enrich the spent tails—as well as a better utility contract—and has said without both of those it could shut down by the end of next month.
But Lookofsky says the legislation wasn’t passed with the current incarnation of the Paducah plant in mind.
“Rather, the change is expected to promote future job opportunities here in Paducah that really build on the community’s expertise and experience working in the nuclear field,” she said.
Those future opportunities worry Art Williams of the Kentucky Conservation Committee.
“It does open this door for the first time, allowing nuclear energy to be used in Kentucky where its primary purpose is this conversion of coal or natural gas,” he said.
Coal gasification is when coal is turned into synthetic gas, and the bill would make it legal to use nuclear power in that process. There aren’t currently any coal gasification plants in Kentucky, but Jack Groppo at UK’s Center for Applied Energy Research says the technology is technically viable, and there’s no reason nuclear power wouldn’t work in the process.
Williams says his organization is against nuclear power for safety reasons—like the possibility of a meltdown and the lack of waste disposal options—but also because it’s expensive.