FRANKFORT, Ky. – Lawmakers have opened the door to construction of nuclear power plants in Kentucky by lifting a longstanding moratorium.
The legislation has been pushed for years by the legislative delegation from far western Kentucky, where thousands of workers have lost jobs in the closure of a uranium enrichment plant near Paducah.
The House passed the measure 65-28 on Wednesday and now goes to Gov. Matt Bevin to be signed into law.
Western Kentucky political and business leaders have been calling for the moratorium to be lifted for years.
“It is the No. 1 priority for Paducah and McCracken County,” said Rep. Gerald Watkins, D-Paducah.
Kentucky, a major coal producer, is one of 11 states that had moratoriums on nuclear power plants.
Rep. Jim Gooch, R-Providence, said the legislation is “a kick in the teeth” to the state’s coal industry, which has lost some 12,000 jobs over the past eight years.
“Kentucky is a coal state,” said Gooch, chairman of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee. “It has helped us to have some of the lowest electric rates in the nation.”
Once the nation’s top coal producer, Kentucky mining industry has suffered under tougher environmental regulations and competition from other sources of electrical generation, including natural gas, nuclear, hydro and wind.
Coal-fired power plants provide 83 percent of Kentucky’s electricity needs, down 10 percentage points over three years.
Watkins said it could take 10 or more years to begin construction on a nuclear power plant. But, once through the permitting process, construction of such a plant would provide jobs for thousands of workers.
"We need to be ready if the opportunity presents itself," he said.