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Senators Debate Lifting Decades Old Ky. Nuclear Moratorium

A Senate bill aimed at exploring the feasibility of nuclear power in the Bluegrass sparked debate in committee Wednesday.

For thirty years, the General Assembly has had a moratorium on any nuclear plant construction without a plan for permanent waste disposal. The Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy has now passed a bill that would lift the moratorium and, proponents argue, allow energy companies to investigate the potential benefits of nuclear power.

Tom Fitzgerald with the Kentucky Resources Council says all of the nuclear plants operating the U.S. are currently housing their waste on site and no permanent solution has been identified. He cautions against moving ahead without a plan.

"The issue is do we lift the moratorium and send a signal to the electric power industry that you don't need to worry about waste disposal, or do we wait until there is a strategy in place to manage these very problematic wastes before we give the green light to new nuclear construction," Fitzgerald argues.

A permanent site for nuclear waste at Nevada's Yucca Mountain had been considered, but the Obama administration has halted funding the project.

Bill sponsor Sen. Bob Leeper told the committee that, even if the bill is passed, any construction of a nuclear plant would be at least ten years off.

"There's nothing in there that says any regulation is notwithstanding. There's no subterfuge here. This allows a process to begin and all the issues that [Fitzgerald] talks about are going to be a part of that process," Leeper testified.

Kentucky currently has no nuclear reactors, but it does have two facilities that have handled radioactive material: the now defunct Maxey Flatts nuclear disposal site and the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, which is in the process of closing.

Similar legislation has passed the Senate before only to die in the House.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.