Burst of nuclear legislation spurred by clean energy push

More than 100 nuclear-related bills have been introduced so far this year in state legislatures.
Reactor 3 is shown at Georgia Power’s Plant Volte nuclear power plant Friday, Jan. 20, 2023, in Waynesboro, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

More than 100 nuclear power-related bills were introduced in the first few weeks of state legislative sessions, with interest in exploring nuclear as an energy source picking right back up from 2022’s record pace.

Last year, 19 states considered nuclear legislation and 12 enacted policies to support existing and new nuclear generation.

So far this year, states have introduced legislation to develop advanced modular reactors, including as a way to generate hydrogen; to build their nuclear workforces; repeal nuclear moratoriums; study small modular nuclear reactors, also known as SMRs; and establish clean energy standards that include nuclear.

“Last year we saw an unprecedented amount of bills passed that support new nuclear projects, and this is really a continuation of that interest and momentum,” said Christine Csizmadia, the head of state governmental affairs and advocacy for the Nuclear Energy Institute.

Minnesota, the latest state to pass a carbon-free energy mandate, added nuclear as an acceptable energy source. The measure was signed into law Tuesday.

In Virginia, lawmakers have unveiled at least five bills touching on nuclear power, including legislation the House passed Tuesday to establish a pilot program for constructing three projects using SMRs. The goal is to get the first project up and running by 2032.

SMRs typically have a power capacity of up to roughly 400 megawatts per unit, which is about one-third of the generating capacity of traditional nuclear power reactors.

Virginia Del. Daniel Marshall (R), the measure’s chief House sponsor, said at a hearing last month that it is designed to position Virginia to win federal dollars from programs seeking to incentivize nuclear power included in the Inflation Reduction Act. Those include an up to $25 per megawatt production tax credit and a 10% bonus credit if the SMR is placed in a brownfield site, a former coalfield site, or a former coal plant.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) announced in October that he would push for the state to ramp up its nuclear footprint. Along with the SMR bill, the House passed a bill that would provide $10 million for nuclear research, a bill that adds hydrogen and nuclear to the list of Virginia eligible renewable energy sources, and a nuclear education grant bill.

“States continue to look into nuclear energy as a way to bolster grid reliability, provide an economic boon to their energy communities, as well as meet their decarbonization goals,” Csizmadia said. “We expect to see even more engagement this year among legislators, stakeholders and communities as interest in nuclear continues to grow.”

Virginia has forged ties with West Virginia in hopes of creating a nuclear innovation hub. The West Virginia House recently passed a resolution urging Marshall University and West Virginia University to help devise policies that will help the state accomplish the goal.

Approval of the resolution came as Bill Gates visited a closed coal-fired power plant there. Gates, who founded a company that is building a nuclear plant in rural Wyoming, said it could be a possible second site.

Another West Virginia bill, cosponsored by Del. Kayla Young (D), would, in part, help establish a relationship with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Until last year, West Virginia had a moratorium on nuclear power, so there was not an emphasis on working with the agency as a nuclear power regulator.

In Indiana, Sen. Eric Koch (R) introduced legislation that would broaden the model of reactors that can be used in the state. It would allow for reactors with a capacity of up to 470 megawatts, up from the 350 megawatts in a Koch-led bill enacted last year.

Koch said that change would allow for Rolls Royce, which manufactures reactors in Indiana, to sell them in the state and increase competition among reactor manufacturers. His bill recently passed the Senate.

The establishment of nuclear power in Indiana could also help it win federal funds seeking to incentivize hydrogen production, according to Ryan Hadley, who leads the Indiana Office of Energy Development.

“We are very interested in the developments of small modular reactors for nuclear generation and similarly the emerging hydrogen ecosystem,” Hadley said.

Indiana is part of a group of seven Midwestern states competing with 32 other state consortiums for about $7 billion in federal funds to establish hydrogen hubs around the nation.

In Nebraska, Sen. Bruce Bostleman (R) introduced a workforce development measure that would set up a panel to determine the training needs of the nuclear and hydrogen industries. It will also create a grant for colleges to develop the curriculum.

Bostleman’s bill comes as the Nebraska Public Power District announced it is beginning to study locations that could potentially host small modular nuclear reactors.

“They’re doing that now,” Bostleman said. “So this is really looking forward and making sure that we have people trained and ready to work in those facilities when that time comes.”