INDIANAPOLIS | Could Indiana lead the way in the development of the second generation of nuclear power after being the only Midwest state to skip the first?
It's too soon to tell, but a group of Hoosier lawmakers spent nearly two hours Monday learning about small modular nuclear reactors and how they could replace the energy generated by the state's mostly coal-fired power plants -- many of which are expected to be retired in the wake of new federal pollution restrictions.
Michael Whatley, of Virginia-based Babcock and Wilcox, the manufacturer of a 180-megawatt nuclear reactor, told lawmakers that unlike traditional 1,200-MW nuclear power plants, the new modular reactors are mostly built in a factory and can be assembled on a 40-acre site.
He said underground reactor placement and natural cooling ensure safety, and several reactors can be linked together at a single site to increase staffing efficiency.
"You can build the facility to meet the megawatt needs of the utility," Whatley said.
The Legislature's Regulatory Flexibility Committee did not formally recommend the General Assembly enact measures to encourage the development of modular nuclear power, though state Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, urged lawmakers keep an open mind.
"We have a void in our energy portfolio, and this is something we should look at long-term," she said.
Grant Smith, of Indiana's Sierra Club chapter, urged lawmakers to take extreme caution in embracing nuclear power, noting that citizen protests and cost overruns doomed the proposed Bailly and Marble Hill nuclear plants in the 1970s and '80s.
"The history of nuclear power is government subsidies, and a lot of subsidies," Smith said.
He said during the decade or more needed for federal and state approval of a nuclear power plant, technological advances in solar and wind power likely will permit those forms of electricity, which also produce no nuclear waste, to operate subsidy-free.
Republican Gov. Mike Pence has said he supports an "all of the above" state energy plan that includes nuclear power.