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Gov signs bill of support for USEC plant
L to R: Rep. Steve Rudy, Kip Phillips, Roger Key, Rep. Will Coursey, Rep. Rocky Adkins, Gov. Beshear, Co. Judge Van Newberry, Mayor Bill Paxton, Rep. Brent Housman

(Paducah KY, May 31, 2012) – Governor Beshear and House Majority Leader Rep. Rocky Adkins came to West Kentucky Community and Technical College (WKCTC) for a ceremonial signing of House Bill 559. They were met by local government officials, area legislators, industry and union reps.

The amendment to KRS 278.605 (new language in bold print) states:

Section 1.   KRS 278.605 is amended to read as follows:
(1) No construction shall commence on a nuclear power facility in the Commonwealth until the Public Service Commission finds that the United States government, through its authorized agency, has identified and approved a demonstrable technology or means for the disposal of high level nuclear waste.
(2) The provisions of this section shall not be construed as applying to or precluding the following nuclear-based technologies, provided that electricity is not the primary output of the processes:
(a) Enrichment of depleted uranium hexaflouride tails;
(b) Processing of metals contaminated with radioactive materials;
(c) Recycling or reprocessing of spent nuclear fuels; and
(d) Nuclear-assisted coal or gas conversion processes.

The bill directly expresses support for the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, which faced closure when US Energy Corporation, (USEC) the lessee of the plant owned by the US Government, Department of Energy, told the Department of Energy that it was thinking of leaving Paducah because of rising energy costs. The company’s agreement with its power supplier, TVA, was expiring. TVA was not willing to offer the deal the company had previously enjoyed. A reprieve came on the federal level when Kentucky’s GOP congressmen negotiated a year’s extension on the plant’s life. 

The legislation at the state level doesn’t extend the life of the plant – but it does signal a new coalition of the state executive and legislative branches, big coal, big labor and the nuclear industry.

Rep. Rocky Adkins, of Sandy Hook Kentucky in the heart of the eastern coal fields, was lauded by Governor Beshear for his sponsorship. In past sessions, big coal was a big roadblock to any moves to help the nuclear industry. West Kentucky legislators were also instrumental in pushing the legislation through. It was one of the very few bills that passed unanimously through both houses of the General Assembly.

Sen. Bob Leeper of Paducah, an independent who caucuses with Senate Republicans and who serves as chair of the Senate budget committee, shepherded the bill through his chamber. Rep. Adkins singled out GOP Rep. Brent Housman of Paducah for bringing his caucus on board in the House. Other House members who signed on to support the legislation included Rep. Fred Nesler of Mayfield, Will Coursey of Benton, Tommy Thompson of Owensboro, Mike Cherry of Princeton, Steve Rudy of Paducah, John Tilley of Hopkinsville, Melvin Henley of Murray and Johnny Bell of Glasgow.

Representatives Cherry, Henley, Housman and Nesler are not running for re-election.

USEC’s labor force was involved in moving the legislation.  United Steelworker Kip Phillips spoke at the signing and said his union supports the plant and hopes for an expansion of its nuclear mission. Phillips said that nuclear power was right for Paducah for three reasons: the location is already a brown field; the community has accepted nuclear work and there’s a trained workforce available.

Everyone represented on Thursday has a dog in the USEC fight. The plant is a big energy user- a coal generated energy user. The union has a big stake in keeping 1200 jobs. Government local, state and federal would get a shock of lost revenue if McCracken’s County’s biggest single employer shuts its doors.

House Bill 559 will have little effect on whether USEC remains as manager of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant or not. The company has other problems that affect the plant that legislation in Frankfort and Washington cannot solve.

A big problem for nuclear power generation is spelled F-U-K-U-S-H-I-M-A. The nuclear facility in Japan melted down following a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami in 2011. After the quake, Japan has turned its back on nuclear power. Fukushima remains in the news.  Contamination is reaching US shores. This week Pacific Bluefish tuna caught off the coast of California were found to be contaminated by radiation from Japan.

No new nukes seemed to be the way the US was going immediately after the disaster. Wall Street insiders pronounced nuclear energy all but dead in America. But the US may be back in the nuclear power plant game as Southern Company was approved in February 2012 by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission to construct a plant to generate power for Atlanta. The lone dissenting vote came from NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko who has since resigned his post.

In the signing of House Bill 559, an event as rare as Venus crossing in front of the sun happened: the agreement of both political parties, the executive branch, industry and labor. It may not happen again in our lifetimes.

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