Nuclear Politics

US / Coal-Dependent West Virginia Ends Ban On Nuclear Power Plants

By David Dalton
9 February 2022

Move opens door for advanced reactors to be backbone of grid
Coal-Dependent West Virginia Ends Ban On Nuclear Power Plants
Two AP1000 plants at Vogtle in Georgia are the only nuclear power reactors under construction in the US. Courtesy Georgia Power.
West Virginia governor Jim Justice has signed a bill ending the state’s ban on nuclear power plants, a move welcomed by the industry as “a forward-thinking decision that is part of a national trend to recognise the role of reliable, carbon-free nuclear power in our energy transition”.

The Washington-based Nuclear Energy Institute said it applauds the West Virginia legislature and governor for lifting the decades-long ban. “Removing antiquated policies like moratoriums on nuclear plant construction serves as a steppingstone toward a decarbonised future and ensures a reliable and cost-effective energy transition that creates good-paying, long-term jobs,” Maria Korsnick, the NEI’s president and chief executive officer said.

Ms Korsnick said that with more fossil fuel plants retiring, new nuclear technologies are more essential than ever to preserve jobs and provide a supply of always-on carbon-free power.

“The passage of this bill… opens the door for advanced nuclear to be the backbone of the energy grid for West Virginia.”

Mr Justice called the bill “a positive step” in modernising the state’s regulatory environment, but said: “We must work to ensure only positive outcomes from this legislation by continually evaluating any concerns and implementing best practices in any regulation that may be required.”

The state's ban on nuclear plants was enacted in 1996, but nuclear power has in recent years gained support as a tool to keep climate change under control, with proponents saying it is emissions-free and safer on average than any other energy source.

West Virginia is the nation’s second-largest coal producer, behind Wyoming, and accounted for 5% of the country’s total energy production in 2019, ranking fifth among the states, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

A retiring coal plant site in Kemmerer in Wyoming has already been chosen as the preferred location for a new generation nuclear power reactor as part of a project involving companies run by billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.

West Virginia has lost thousands of coal jobs in the past decade as companies and utilities explore using other energy sources such as natural gas, solar and wind.

According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, coal provides 88% of West Virginia's energy needs, followed by 5% from natural gas, 3.3% from wind, 3.1% from hydroelectric and 0.2% from other energy sources.

There are 53 commercial nuclear power plants operating in 28 states in the US, although Georgia is the only state with a nuclear project currently under construction with two Westinghouse AP1000 units nearing completion at Vogtle.

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