Indiana lawmakers consider framework for small-scale nuclear reactors

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Current Indiana legislation, SB 271, would allow utility companies to store radioactive waste at nuclear reactor sites. (Adobe Stock)

(Indiana News Service) From electric-vehicle infrastructure to renewable-energy initiatives, Indiana lawmakers have spent much of this legislative session with their eyes on a post-fossil-fuel future. Now, Republicans are pushing a controversial alternative – nuclear power.

The state Senate has approved a bill establishing a framework for utilities to build and operate small modular reactors. In a House committee meeting last week, state Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, said the measure would help pave the way for Indiana’s future energy economy.

“States are moving this direction; nobody is moving the other way,” he said. “States around the country are all taking steps in this direction, and I hope you would agree Indiana should, too.”

The bill also would grant financial incentives to companies that operate and build nuclear reactors. Opponents have argued that the cost of operating and constructing the facilities would be passed on to consumers, and environmental groups have expressed concerns about nuclear waste, which can be expensive and difficult to dispose of safely.

The Indianapolis Star reported that there are no small modular reactors currently operating in the United States, and Kerwin Olson, executive director of the Citizens Action Coalition, said the bill places ratepayers on the hook to help fund relatively untested projects.

“The nuclear industry certainly talks a good game, makes lots of promises,” he said, “but the reality is, they’ve delivered very little in the last several decades.”

The bill would instruct the state’s Utility Regulatory Commission to give preference to proposals to build reactors on retired coal-plant sites. Denise Abdul-Rahman, the Indiana NAACP’s environmental climate justice chair, said those plants often are located in historically disadvantaged communities.

“The radioactive waste will last for thousands of years,” she said, “and can have impacts on humans for thousands of years.”

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, small modular reactors generate about one-third as much power as traditional reactors.

The measure passed out of the House’s Energy and Utilities Committee last week.

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