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Nuclear power advisory panel proposal fizzles, gets tabled

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A proposal to set up an advisory council to help guide the development of nuclear power in Montana fizzled Friday when the committee tabled the motion, in effect keeping the idea from moving on to the 2023 legislative session.

Rep. Katie Sullivan, D-Missoula, made a motion to table the proposal, which was approved 10-0 by the Energy and Telecommunications Interim Committee (ETIC). Sullivan had advocated for the proposal, but her motion generated no comment from fellow committee members.

However, Sen. Terry Gauthier, R-Helena, said prior to the meeting he was frustrated as it was a good idea that failed to get traction.

He said he had balked at attempts to put ratepayer protections into the proposal, saying that was the job of the Public Service Commission. He said some Democrats on the panel object to nuclear power or having it developed in Montana.

“With this attitude we would have never discovered the new world or landed on the moon,” Gauthier wrote in a text.

Those opposed to the council had said the newer version was a watered down from an earlier proposal. They said it was rushed and omitted ratemaking provisions that would protect the public.

The advisory council was a last-minute idea considered by the committee. It also would have created a nuclear liaison for the state who would have to submit a report annually to ETIC.

The funding plan was to have the costs of the committee supported by any nuclear company that submitted an application with the state.

The study of nuclear power was the result of Senate Joint Resolution 3, passed in the 2021 legislative session. Carried by Gauthier, SJ-3 notes the closure of coal-fired power plants will result in negative impacts on the Colstrip community and coal-fired boilers could be replaced by a small nuclear reactor that would provide clean, well-paying jobs. He said it can then use the existing infrastructure to produce and distribute clean, affordable electricity safely and without carbon emissions.

Rep. Andrea Olsen, D-Missoula

Olsen

The interim committee reviewed two reports it would submit to the Legislature, and one of them was SJ3.

Rep. Andrea Olsen, D-Missoula, asked for some additions to be made to the reports.

“I feel like waste and costs are barriers we should spend more time on in our reports,” she said, adding they are barriers that have not been addressed properly.

Gauthier said those issues have been addressed in the reports.

“I think there is plenty of in-the-weeds conversation already and I would object to that,” he said.

Rep. Steve Galloway, R-Great Falls, said it is an advancing technology.

“It’s just not your dad’s nuclear systems anymore,” he said, describing nuclear power as “an evolution that hasn’t arrived yet.”

GOP lawmakers have also noted in the past there are federal agencies that regulate nuclear power as well.

Olsen said Galloway's comment that nuclear power is evolving does support her claim that there are questions about how they will dispose of waste.

Gauthier said waste will be reduced by small modular reactors. He said the waste generated by this country is about football-field sized and 30 feet high.

Sen. Janet Ellis, D-Helena, said she objected to comments that blew off the waste issue.

“I think it’s a big issue, I agree with … Olsen on that,” she said.

Committee Chair Sen. Mary McNally, D-Billings, said she had concerns of waste and cost but the committee was at a point that the time for modifying contents had passed.

The committee voted to move the reports on to the Legislature as drafted.

SJ3 passed 9-1, with Olsen as the lone dissenter. SJ33, a grid modernization study, passed 10-0.

To know more

You can read SJ3 at https://bit.ly/3LiG9IN

You can read SJ33 at https://bit.ly/3DBOaqt

Assistant editor Phil Drake can be reached at 406-231-9021.

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Assistant editor/reporter

Phil Drake is the assistant editor and reporter at the Independent Record.

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