Panel delays nuclear waste bill

2011-10-17T23:45:00Z 2011-10-18T00:10:43Z Panel delays nuclear waste bill

By JOAN BARRON

Casper Star-Tribune

The Billings Gazette
October 17, 2011 11:45 pm  • 

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A special task force studying ways to bring nuclear power to Wyoming wrapped up its work Monday but left the more controversial bills for another day.

The contentious bills that were set back included a proposal to authorize construction of one temporary high-level-radioactive-waste storage facility in Wyoming if at least one nuclear power-generating facility is operating in the state.

The task force will recommend three bills to the state Legislature’s Committee on Minerals, Business and Economic Development for possible introduction at the budget session that opens in February. The bills would:

Authorize the Wyoming Business Council to investigate the feasibility of locating in the state hybrid-energy-systems facilities that use non-nuclear energy resources such as coal, natural gas and wind.

Require the U.S. Geological Survey to study potential nuclear facility sites in Wyoming.

Authorize the University of Wyoming to create new programs totaling $1.8 million that focus on nuclear engineering and uranium production.

State Rep. David Miller, R-Riverton, co-chairman of the task force, supported the waste storage bill. He said it is key to any effort in getting a nuclear plant located in Wyoming.

The draft bill would give pre-approval for the waste storage facility if at least one nuclear facility is operating in the state.

“The bill is important because it answers the waste question up front,” Miller said.

It also should be more “palatable,” he said, than a proposal to import radioactive waste from other states for storage here.

A state law adopted in the 1990s requires the Legislature to approve the construction or operation of any nuclear waste storage facility in the state.

Other committee members said the issue needs more public comment, and is too controversial and complex to introduce in the short budget session this winter.

Miller was the only member who recommended the bill to the legislative committee.

Former Gov. Mike Sullivan planned to attend the meeting to testify on the radioactive waste bill but was unable to do so, said Sen. Stan Cooper, R-Kemmerer, the task force co-chairman.

Sullivan in 1992 vetoed the federal government’s plan to install a temporary nuclear waste facility in Fremont County after substantial protest from county residents.

One of two other bills that were tabled would have allowed companies to charge residents for nuclear power before plant construction is finished, if the Wyoming Public Service Commission agreed. The other would establish a Wyoming Energy Authority, similar to the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority.

Cooper said the energy authority could face constitutional problems.

Legislators who supported the creation of the task force said the state can’t ignore nuclear power and should find ways to increase production and processing of uranium for exportation.

Miller and Cooper said the task force completed its assignments and got a good start on the issue. The Legislature will decide if it should continue the effort.

Any large nuclear plant requires at least 10 years from planning through permitting to construction and costs billions of dollars.

Rocky Mountain Power President Richard Walje told the task force earlier that the company is looking at nuclear plant possibilities in the 2035 time frame.

No nuclear plants have been constructed in the United States since the 1980s.

Miller, a mining engineer and geologist, said construction of a nuclear plant in South Korea and China takes about four years.

A total of 440 nuclear plants operate worldwide, including 140 in the U.S. A total of 62 plants are currently under construction worldwide, with half of them in China.

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