West Virginia Senate Majority Leader Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha County, before the start of the 2020 legislative session, Charleston, January 8, 2020.

AP Photo/John Raby, File

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Signaling a rush to diversify its energy offerings, coal-dependent West Virginia would eliminate a ban on nuclear power plants under a bill passed by the US Senate. State Tuesday.

The bill was approved by a vote of 24 to 7. Three senators did not vote. A similar bill is pending in the House of Delegates.

The state ban on nuclear power plants was enacted in 1996, but nuclear power has grown in popularity in recent years as a tool to control climate change, with supporters noting that it emits few emissions harmful to the planet and that it is on average safer than almost all the others. energy source.

“All this bill does is simply say that we are open to discussion. That’s it,” said Republican Kanawha County Senator Tom Takubo, sponsor of the bill. “We are not closed-minded.

“I think it’s important for West Virginia to look to the future, to diversify, and to just say to the rest of the world that we are open to discussion if this technology were to come to our mountainous state.”

West Virginia is the nation’s second-largest coal producer, behind Wyoming, and accounted for 5% of the nation’s total energy production in 2019, ranking fifth among states, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

But West Virginia has lost thousands of coal jobs over the past decade as businesses and utilities explore the use of alternative energy sources such as natural gas, solar and electricity. wind.

According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, coal provides 88% of West Virginia’s energy needs, followed by 5% of natural gas, 3.3% of wind, 3.1% of hydro, and 0.2% other energy sources.

There are nuclear power plants in 28 states, although Georgia is the only state with a nuclear project currently under construction. Among surrounding states, there are a total of 8,500 nuclear power jobs in Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, according to the NEI.

Some states are moving away from carbon dioxide-emitting fossil fuels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and avoid the worst effects of global warming.

“When companies look at West Virginia and they have a global market that they’re selling a product to, they have to say their carbon footprint is zero or near zero,” said Putnam County Republican Eric Tarr. “It requires a diversified portfolio of energy.”

Harrison County Democrat Mike Romano said he supports nuclear power but worries the bill doesn’t address regulatory oversight. But Mercer County Republican Chandler Swope said the state’s Public Service Commission has indicated it has authority over all forms of energy. Takubo said future legislatures could address planning for nuclear power plants if a company shows interest.

Monongalia County Democrat Bob Beach, another opponent of the bill, expressed concern about national security, arguing that nuclear facilities could be targets. He said few states east of the Mississippi River don’t have nuclear power plants.

“I would like West Virginia to continue to be one of those safe states,” Beach said.

Proponents of nuclear energy say nuclear accidents are frightening but extremely rare – while pollution from coal and other fossil fuels causes death and disease every day.

House Speaker Roger Hanshaw has indicated his support for the legislation.

He said on Twitter on Tuesday that while the fossil fuel industry isn’t going away anytime soon, “we need to have basic nutrition. We just want to make sure the signal we’re sending to the world is yes, think West Virginia.”

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