Sen. Leeper says nuclear power should be part of Ky. energy mix, including 'marriage' with coal

03/20/2011 11:31 AM

Kentuckians shouldn’t be quick to write off nuclear power in light of the crisis in Japan, said state Sen. Bob Leeper, an independent from Paducah.

And Leeper said on Friday’s edition of Pure Politics that the public will likely become more informed on nuclear energy — its pros and cons — and the science around it as a result of following the news in Japan.

Japanese officials and power company workers have struggled to prevent fuel rods from overheating and releasing large amounts of radiation after a nuclear power plant was damaged by last week’s earthquake and subsequent tsunami.

“As we understand the science of what actually happened, what worked in the design of these plants, much of what we’re hearing early is that the design to deal with the seismic issue worked well,” Leeper said.

Despite Japan facing the world’s worst nuclear crisis in decades, Leeper said he won’t back off his efforts to convince lawmakers to repeal a ban on building nuclear reactors in Kentucky.

Kentucky has had a moratorium on building nuclear reactors since 1984. It was put in place until the federal government finds a way to deal with radioactive waste from the facilities.

Leeper has tried for three consecutive legislative sessions to pass a bill that would lift the moratorium.

“Every vote we’ve had in the three years, we’ve passed it (in the Senate). We did pass it once in a House Committee – 12 to 6 in fact,” Leeper said. “Every vote we’ve had … we’ve had a chance to educate the lawmakers that are making those decisions.”

And Kentucky — specifically Leeper’s district in western Kentucky — sits on the New Madrid fault.

But Leeper said nuclear facilities, including the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant that refines fuel for nuclear reactors, can be built to withstand earthquakes.

Twelve hundred Kentuckians work in that facility.

“Those workers have an understanding and appreciation for nuclear energy. There are engineers down there, very talented, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they weren’t being called on to deal with some of the issues in Japan,” Leeper said.

Leeper said he wants companies looking to potentially build a nuclear reactor to be able to at least explore Kentucky as a potential site, as the senator said, “to at least put Kentucky on the map.”

In addition, he cited testimony in a recent legislative hearing in which engineers said nuclear technology can be used to liquefy coal that can be turned into jet fuel.

“Eventually there will be a marriage between the two,” Leeper said of the two forms of energy.

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