Indiana Senate panel advances bill allowing small nuclear reactors

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An Indiana Senate panel approved a bill on Thursday that would allow electric utilities to build small modular nuclear reactors that could generate up to 350 megawatts of electricity, enough to power a small city.

It’s a major shift for Indiana, which has never had commercial nuclear power, and has long relied on coal—and more recently, natural gas, wind and solar energy—to power homes and factories.

The Senate Utilities Committee voted 8-2 to advance a bill that would permit utilities to build small, prefabricated plants, which would be a fraction of the size of a traditional nuclear power plant.

No Indiana utility has announced plans to build a small modular reactor, and none have been built yet in the United States. The small reactors are still in the design and testing phase.

“This bill will create a framework for Indiana, if it so decides, to move into the world of small nuclear modular reactors,” said committee chair Sen. Eric Koch, a Republican from Bedford, the bill’s author

Around the U.S., several commercial vendors are pushing states to repeal moratoriums on nuclear power and support the permitting and licensing of reactors. They say their modular reactors are compact and flexible, and can quickly adjust output to match demand. A majority of states, in pursuit of cleaner energy sources, are considering nuclear power.

NuScale Power, based in Portland, Oregon, told the committee its reactors are about 75 feet tall and 15 feet in diameter, the reactors could be used in combinations, with a single site containing modules of up to 12 reactors. A site–typically a shuttered coal-fired plant–could employ about 270 people and provide more than 1,000 temporary construction jobs.

The company did not say how much it would cost to build a modular nuclear reactor here, but several studies have estimated the costs in the billions of dollars.

Utilities would be permitted to ask Indiana regulators for permission to pass along the cost of construction to customers before the plant goes online. The bill adds small modular reactors to the definition of clean energy technologies that are eligible for financial incentives, including recovering construction costs before the plants even go online, through monthly trackers added onto utility bills.

Supporters of the bill said Indiana needs to consider alternatives to coal and natural gas, along with wind and solar farms, and other renewable energy sources. They said adding nuclear power could attract more power-intensive business to the state, such as electric vehicles, data centers and manufacturing.

“The one way to get rid of industry in Indiana is to have someone like … Subaru or Toyota have to shut down because there’s not enough power,” said Republican Sen. Blake Doriot of Goshen.

In an unusually long hearing, the committee listened to testimony for more than three hours from supporters and opponents.

The bill was supported by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, the Indiana Energy Association and other nuclear power advocates. It was opposed by the NAACP and Citizen Action Coalition of Indiana.

The nuclear industry touts its power as a “clean energy,” meaning it produces energy by splitting uranium atoms, but does not emit carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide or nitrogen oxides, as traditional coal-fired power plants do.

However, nuclear plants use large amounts of water for steam production and for cooling. They also generate spent uranium fuel which is stored in pools or steel-lined concrete vaults for decades.

The Nuclear Energy Institute, a trade association, told the committee that modular reactors could be built on the site of retired coal-burning plants, and said the technology was similar.

“The only difference is that instead of burning coal, you’re splitting an atom,” said Marcus Nichol, the institute’s senior director of new reactors.

The Biden administration has touted nuclear power as a source of clean, reliable power, and supports small modular reactors as flexible to match output with demand.

“Nuclear energy is a key element of the President’s plan to put the United States on a path to net-zero carbon future by 2050,” said Alice Caponiti, deputy assistant secretary for reactor fleet and advanced reactor deployment at U.S. Department of Energy.

Several students of Purdue University’s nuclear engineering program appeared before the committee to urge lawmakers to pave the way for construction of nuclear reactors in Indiana. They said the technology was safe, and that having nuclear reactors here would allow them to stay in Indiana rather than work in another state.

The last time an Indiana utility considered nuclear power was more than three decades ago. A predecessor to Duke Energy, then known as Public Service Indiana, nearly went bankrupt in 1984 when construction costs soared to $2.5 billion at its Marble Hill Nuclear Power Station in southern Indiana. It pulled the plug on the project, and the half-built plant was later dismantled and sold for parts.

Some consumer and environmental groups warned the committee that building nuclear reactors is hugely expensive, and the cost should not be shifted onto ratepayers.

Citizen Action Coalition pointed out that NuScale’s only project to date, a 700-megawatt modular reactor planned within the Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls, has jumped in cost from an initial estimate of $2.7 billion to a recent estimate of $6.2 billion. Construction has yet to begin.

Kerwin Olson, the coalition’s executive director, said that was twice the cost of Duke Energy’s 600 megawatt Edwardsport power plant in Knox County, built about a decade ago, which was the second-most expensive capital project in Indiana history at the time.

“I urge this committee to protect the ratepayers of the state of Indiana, who already struggle with increasing energy costs,” he said.

The Hoosier Environmental Council said nuclear power ranks as one of the most expensive sources of electricity. It said a new nuclear plant generates electricity at a cost four times as high as a wind farm or solar farm.

“Nuclear power cost overruns are not a perception. They are a reality,” said Tim Maloney, the council’s senior policy director.

The bill would require the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to adopt rules by July 1, 2023, on granting certificates of need for construction, purchase or lease of small modular nuclear reactors.

The bill goes to the full Senate for consideration.

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24 thoughts on “Indiana Senate panel advances bill allowing small nuclear reactors

    1. It’s cleaner than solar panels which involve heavy industrial mining which leaks chemicals into groundwater.

  1. I don’t understand why legislation would be passed now for a system still in the design and testing phase? Also, why would the construction costs be passed onto citizens BEFORE the plant goes online? Hypothetically, a facility can begin construction right now with Hoosiers paying for it, the system could fail safety standards during the testing phase, and then we’ve paid for an eyesore with no functionality.

    It’s amazing how many laws are written because lobbyists fund political races.

    1. Agree with JC. 100%. And, oh, yes, remember the former Indiana utility company, Public Service of Indiana (PSI), the one that served the largest percentage of Indiana residents…….yes, I haven’t forgotten PSI’s boondoggle down on the Ohio River called Marble Hill nuclear power plant. Abandoned after getting some percentage of it constructed only to abandon the project because it was costing PSI too much to keep going, what a joke. And weren’t the PSI ratepayers on the hook paying for a substantial portion of that abandoned construction, then paying for the demolition of the same? And now we have Duke Energy, who purchased PSI a few years back. A few more years go by and another cost overrun upon overrun upon cost overrun on their apparently “engineer it as you build” mentality, for Edwardsport…….”but what about the extra costs”, the engineers ask the Duke people. “Awe, no big deal”, Duke people say, We’ll be so far into it and the Indiana ratepayers will continue to cover the overruns, because we could never abandon what we’ve, by the seat of our pants, already started; could not possibly ever have another Marble Hill. Our shareholders wouldn’t have such a thing”…….. so it all goes.

      And, haven’t seen lately how the ole Edwardsport project is doing these days cranking out all the gas-from-coal in creating electricity from that gas. Oh well, the ratepayers will soon all forget about the Marble Hill’s and Edwardsport and cost overruns. Its all really kind of sickening to hear the legislator taxing people so easily agreeing to this unproven so-called new approach to producing nuclear power. How much for such a project, once the technology has been engineered down to the last bolt and nut? Apparently too many errors and omissions and thus those 2 dirty words, “Change Order” on Marble Hill and the same again on Edwardsport)???? That can’t continue to happen. Kerwin Olson gets it in defense of the Indiana ratepayers. ACCOUNTABILITY matters too. And the costs of errors, and really ongoing omissions after omissions after omissions………….NO ACCOUNTABILITY there. No, Indiana ratepayers should not be the “guinea pigs” to have to mitigate, i.e. pay for engineering negligence and for poor project management of engineering and associated control of costs during design and engineering, certainly not during construction. Are these new modular reactor companies going to be willing to be accountable and cover changes that arise after hard bidding has taken place? Same goes for the Utility company to step up and stipulate to all the other engineering & contracting entities of their ACCOUNTABLE role in cost control; Stating, “this project is not a cash vacuum” ?

    2. Amen to well funded politicians because of well funded lobbyists, because a utility in Indiana is guaranteed to make money (by law) no matter what is happening in the energy sector.

      Having worked for IPL, looking at Annual Reports before AES purchased DPL, IPL was sending more than 300 million a year out of state to AES Corporate headquarters in profits.

  2. This technology sounds really awesome until you look at the costs to build and maintain. When construction costs spiral out of control to the tune of billions that’s not going to work. Also, producing energy that costs four times as much as other methods is not going to work either. Could you imagine getting bills that are four times what you pay now. Lastly, they said we need this to attract power intensive industries that use a lot of power. Are they willing to pay a large premium for nuclear generated power? I love the idea of nuclear power and hope it can be advanced, but obviously getting the costs down will be necessary for it to be a viable alternative to current methods.

    1. The costs for nuclear power plant construction spiral out of control because of nuclear regulators which craft rules to stifle innovation and deployment.

      In the long-run, nuclear power is far cheaper and far cleaner than wind and solar.

    2. Oh… Just what we need, a nuclear power plant built and maintained with lax regulatory oversight.

    3. What happens 50 years from now with the nuclear waste and a radioactively contaminated site?

    1. Better yet, stockpile your solid waste so you can burn it for heating and cooking. Works for the third world, it can work for us too!

  3. Indiana has some of the most utility friendly laws in the mid-west. Look at the $800 million proposed by Vectern to build gas turbine peaking plants near Evansville. They are going to extend a Kentucky gas pipeline dozens of miles and under the Ohio river to build the plants in Indiana when they only expect to use them 2-10% of the time. Why not build them near the pipeline? Because in Indiana they can soak their rate payers for the full cost of the plants and get a full return on the investment.

    Now imagine lots of small nuclear plants built because they have return on investment guaranteed by law. With a small plant you might not have a Fukushima, Chernobyl, or a Three Mile Island, but 50 years from now, just small radioactive dump sites all over the state because NOBODY has solved the problem of what to do with nuclear waste. NOBODY wants it shipped through their state. NOBODY wants it dumped in their state.

    1. You’re paranoid and a fool. Please stop the histrionics. Do you understand how much of this state will have to be covered with solar panels & windmills to meet future need? Do you understand anything about the advances in nuclear safety since Fukushima? Are you prepared to allow windmills to surround YOUR home – or are ok w/them so long as they are “somewhere else”? I think you and the guy from Citizens Action Coalituon need to go in on a calculator to get a grip on the scale of nuclear generation vs wind & solar, and spend some time learning about modern nuclear power development.

    2. Are you volunteering to have a small nuclear plant in your neighborhood?

      Did I hear you say that we have a practical way to handle the waste?

      I would not live 50 miles down wind of a nuclear plant. We just need one big earthquake like we had in 1816 for all of us to be in a fallout zone.

      I personally think windmills and solar are pretty cool. When I see a line of windmills, I think that I am seeing the future, and if I have to look at these, at least they are not killing the planet.

  4. No one can agree on anything!!!! Gezzzz we want all electric cars but have no way to charge them.
    Everyone is a bunch of goofs. No agreement on anything to move forward.

  5. Nuclear power is a clean-air power generator. The waste disposal is monitored and highly regulated. New modular designs are really not that new, meaning this is not untested technology. This is the technology necessary to bridge the gap between windmills/solar panels and rising demand for electricity to power cars. I want to drive an atomic car, not a coalburner.

    1. Or better yet, go 100% nuclear, standardize production of energy across the entire United States, and we won’t have to deal with the unreliable energy produced by windmills and solar panels.

      Nuclear scales up easily, wind and solar do not unless you want complete ecosystems destroyed by the construction of windmills and solar farms on millions of acres of wilderness.

  6. I’m praying for Nuclear Fusion, the $22B ITER project, and the development of that technology to save our planet. Without it we don’t stand a chance. Coal sucks, create hazardous ash and we will run out, nuclear fission creates radioactive waste, and wind and solar don’t produce enough energy (currently). Look at all these arguments above if you don’t believe my statement.

  7. Small nuclear reactors are the future. Rolls Royce has been building them and making a lot of money from the military for years. They power subs and battleships. Around here, they would use small amounts of spent fuel. It wouldn’t be hard to go around and collect these tubes. I have been Googling Small Nuclear Reactors for a couple years. 100 or so could power much of Indianapolis cheaply and pollution free. There is no reason to fear these units. Considering how many homes are heated by wood pellets , it would significantly clean up our air. Steven Pettinga, Indianapolis