FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – With the scrawl of his pen Friday, Gov. Eric Holcomb paved the way Indiana to become a nuclear power state.
He signed off on Senate Bill 271, which directs the Indiana Utilities Regulatory Commission to make rules when it comes to the construction, purchase or lease of what are being called small modular nuclear reactors.
These new types of reactors can provide carbon-free energy and power an entire city, but the caveat is they are likely a long way off.
None have been built in America and only one design has been approved for use in Idaho.
And that is partly what irks critics of the bill, who say it opens up the possibility that utility companies can raise rates to cover research and development into the technology, thereby charging customers for something that is not even in use yet.
“What this bill allows is for the regulated utility company to begin charging customers as long as they have a plan for this technology,” said Kerwin Olson, the executive director of Citizens Action Coalition, a consumer and environmental advocacy organization. “The problem with that is that the licensing process costs a lot of money and takes a long time, so customers may begin paying for a service that is not available yet, much less under development.”
“It alters the relationship between the customers and the company,” he added.
When reached for comment about the possibility of small modular nuclear reactors being developed here or nearby, Indiana Michigan Power officials released the following statement:
“Indiana Michigan Power (I&M) and its parent company, American Electric Power (AEP), believe small modular reactors are technology worthy of additional research and are following industry developments closely, in a manner consistent with how we examine all future generation resources, to determine their potential use to power the communities we serve.”
The push for Indiana to switch to nuclear power comes as coal plants have begun to close or are planning to close across the state.
Proponents of the bill argued that these new nuclear reactors – which are anywhere from 1/4- to 1/10- the size of typical nuclear reactors elsewhere – could be run by people who lost their jobs at the coal plants.
Plus, they tout the reactors as safer and more economical than fossil fuel plants.
While critics say that is not proven – there’s concern about the risks of storing radioactive fuel – these reactors could be so far off into the future it would not affect those who are losing their jobs at coal plants.
“I understand there’s a romantic relationship Indiana has with big power and the replacing of coal with nukes,” Olson said. “It’s a fairy tale. These things are nowhere close to being commercially available. Those jobs are nowhere near coming soon.”
The only current possibility of a small modular nuclear reactor being built so far lies in Idaho.
NuScale Power, an Oregon company which lobbied in Indiana for the passage of Senate Bill 271, has produced the only design for these reactors that have won safety approval from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, which represents utilities in seven western states, wants to build and operate six of the company’s reactors in Idaho.
Those wouldn’t be online until 2029, at the earliest.
However, a report by the Ohio-based Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis found these reactors “too expensive, too risky and too uncertain.”
Which echoes much of what Olson and the Citizens Action Coalition finds problematic with the new law.
“It’s our position that if they believe these are safe and cost effective, they should develop them on their own dime,” he said.