Can Missouri Be a Leader in a Nuclear Energy Resurgence?
In my last post, I discussed the ADVANCE Act, which would lower barriers to the construction of advanced modular nuclear reactors across the country. But what about Missouri? While the potential for major changes still depends to some degree on action at the federal level, there are things that can be done closer to home.
First, policymakers here should understand what the future of nuclear power looks like. Even though Georgia just saw the completion of Vogtle Units 3 & 4 (which cost around $30 billion and over a decade to build), Vogtle may well be the swan song for traditional nuclear power plants. It simply is not feasible to construct such an immense project, and this points to the direction nuclear is going—toward advanced and small modular reactors, which I discuss in another post.
Even on a smaller scale, nuclear construction is still immensely costly, and utilities and private entities alike take on a huge financial risk largely due to the regulatory barriers. In Missouri, while we wait for needed federal reform, we should do what we can at the state level to reduce the risks involved with investment in nuclear power.
Does this mean we should hand out subsidies and tax credits like candy? No. But we need to signal our openness to nuclear expansion. Fortunately, our state already has some history with nuclear. The plant in Callaway has been reliably operating in our state since 1984. We also have a nationally known nuclear engineering school; in 2021, Missouri University of Science and Technology awarded the 11th most nuclear engineering degrees in the country. We have the potential to attract more nuclear developers to our state and should be partnering with them.
Seeking out private nuclear developers, forming a nuclear advisory board (which would focus solely on legislative and policy changes/opportunities to address nuclear workforce and education barriers, storage and waste practices, and coordination with federal agencies), and passing pro-nuclear legislation could all help bring more nuclear energy to Missouri. In a future post, I will discuss how Missouri could also lure developers by creating nuclear infrastructure through acquiring early-site permits on brownfield sites or failed construction projects.
In Tennessee, the Tennessee Valley Authority is partnering with GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (USA), Ontario Power Generation (Canada), and Synthos Green Energy (Poland) to jointly invest $400 million into developing up to four small modular reactors. Advanced nuclear reactors are a new technology, and the fact they are reliable, versatile, clean, and powerful is drawing global interest. Missouri should be similarly proactive in looking for potential partners
Missouri should also improve the regulatory environment so that it does not discourage investment in nuclear power. State utilities cannot raise rates to help pay for construction projects in progress; they must wait until the development is fully operational and used in service. But power plants do not arise out of thin air; they are necessary infrastructure that benefit anyone who uses the energy they produce. My colleague David Stokes has discussed how this law was made by the anti-nuclear lobby in the 1970s to kill nuclear construction in the state—and it has succeeded thus far. Last session, Missouri, through HB 225, wisely sought to allow utilities to file with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (prior to the beginning of construction) in order to raise rates to pay (if needed) for small modular reactor projects only. If the newly requested rates are not “just and reasonable,” the commission can renegotiate or deny the proposed increase. This bill flew through the house but failed to gain traction in the Senate (where just about everything died). I understand the concerns with paying for a project that may never come to fruition, and I think adding a refund measure (if the project is cancelled) could help ease the concerns of ratepayers. A refund measure would also give utilities an additional incentive to finish what they started, which would further signal resolve to develop these reactors.
The emergence of small, modular nuclear reactors presents Missouri with a familiar choice: take the initiative or sit on the sidelines. Option B, which seems to be a traditional favorite among policymakers here, would be a costly error.