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Health, Science, Environment

Missouri Commission Wants Legislators To Scrap Nuclear Plant-Funding Law

The Callaway Nuclear Generating Station in Fulton is the only nuclear power plant in Missouri.
File photo | Veronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio
The Callaway Nuclear Generating Station in Fulton is the only nuclear power plant in Missouri.

The Missouri Air Conservation Commission is asking state legislators to repeal a decades-old law that controls how companies fund new nuclear power plants. 

The Construction Work in Progress law, passed by Missouri voters in 1976, prohibits utility companies from charging customers to cover the cost of building power plants until the facilities are up and running. 

The commission unanimously passed a resolution Thursday calling the law an “intractable roadblock” for nuclear power in Missouri. Opponents say the governor-appointed commission is overstepping its bounds. 

Ed Smith, policy director for the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, said he was “in shock” after the vote. 

“We have people who are unelected telling elected people how to set energy policy for the state of Missouri,” said Smith, who submitted a letter in opposition to the resolution. “That is best left in the legislative arena, not for the commissioners to pick and choose winners.”

Commissioner Ron Boyer introduced the resolution on Aug. 29, six weeks after he wrote an op-ed for the Missouri Farm Bureau in support of nuclear power. 

Nuclear power plants “emit none of the traditional air pollutants, and the trace amounts of radioactive emissions are less than those emitted by coal-fired power plants,” Boyer wrote.

The Missouri Farm Bureau, which promotes the construction of new nuclear power plants, submitted a letter to the commission supporting the resolution. 

During a teleconference meeting Wednesday, Commissioner Richard Rocha suggested nuclear power could help the state reduce its use of coal as an energy source. 

The resolution, Rocha said, could encourage the state to consider nuclear power — “a zero-greenhouse-gas-emission, zero-pollution choice” — as a viable energy source. 

The control room of the Callaway Nuclear Generating Station. The plant produced about 13% of the energy generated in Missouri in 2018.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Smith said the commission is ignoring the financial risks of building new nuclear power plants. He cited the failed V.C. Summer nuclear project near Jenkinsville, South Carolina, which cost ratepayers $2 billion and resulted in an FBI investigation. 

“Not only is nuclear a dangerous power source, it’s dangerous to consumers when plants are being built,” he said.

Geoff Marke, chief economist for the Missouri Office of Public Counsel, submitted a memo to the commission Oct. 16 calling a repeal of the law “wholly unnecessary,” arguing it would shift the financial risk of building new power plants onto the shoulders of ratepayers. 

“Right now, the statute is not preventing nuclear from moving forward,” Marke said. “This resolution is a solution looking for a problem.” 

The sole nuclear power plant in Missouri, Callaway Nuclear Generating Station, generated 13% of the state’s net electricity in 2018. Ameren Missouri, which owns the nuclear plant, did not take an official position on the resolution nor submit comments.

“Our latest generation plans do not call for any new nuclear generation capacity,” Warren Wood, Ameren Missouri’s vice president of regulatory and legislative affairs, said in an email. 

Ameren Missouri lobbied for the repeal of the Construction Work in Progress law in 2009, but that effort failed in the Legislature. 

In 2015, the utility dropped its effort to build a second reactor at its Callaway facility.

Follow Shahla on Twitter: @shahlafarzan

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