We are officially halfway (30-days) through the West Virginia 2023 Legislative Session. In that short amount of time, the West Virginia Legislature has been extremely busy. With so much going on in such a short period of time, I wanted to take a closer look at some bills which might not be making headlines but are very important to nuclear energy and the development of West Virginia’s all-of-the-above energy strategy.
First is House Bill 2896 which concerns making West Virginia an Agreement State with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (“NRC”). This legislation is modeled after draft legislation from the NRC and which the WV Legislature edited and received a tentative agreement from the NRC that if HB 2896 is passed, the NRC would accept it as properly conforming to the State Agreement program requirements.
Becoming an Agreement State with the NRC means that West Virginia gains regulatory authority to license and regulate byproduct materials (radioisotopes); source materials (uranium and thorium); and certain quantities of special nuclear materials. West Virginia currently loses out on collecting over $1 Million in fees from licensees annually, as licensees pay fees directly to the federal government rather than the State. Those fees, and additional ones as nuclear companies come to WV, will stay with and benefit WV directly!
Additionally, HB 2896 would create a radiation control act and department within the Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”), creating jobs and allowing the state to maintain oversight over source materials, such as radiological materials for medical treatment, basic forms of uranium or thorium (mined or recovered), and the proper disposal of low-level radioactive waste. Additionally, this bill creates jobs as West Virginia will need to employ their own inspectors to inspect licensees’ facilities and projects to ensure compliance with the radiation control act regulations. Those inspectors will be based here in the state, and their training will be provided and funded by the NRC.
Should HB 2896 be passed by the Legislature, I believe that nuclear companies will be ready to begin looking to set up operations in the State as the necessary regulations will be in place and provide the companies with certainty as to what those regulations are and who will be providing the oversight. HB 2896 has passed two committees, the House Energy and Manufacturing Committee, and the House Judiciary Committee; now it must pass the House Finance Committee before going before the full House floor for a vote, and then on to the Senate. Read HB2896.
Second is HB 3012, which is a Bill that aims to create a twelve-year severance tax exemption for certain rare earth elements and critical minerals, and uranium (the base of nuclear fuel) is included as a critical mineral. While West Virginia has yet to locate any meaningful deposits of uranium in its geologic formations, uranium can be obtained out of coal ash, and from acid mine drainage. West Virginia University and its Water Research Institute, as well as several private companies, are working on ways of recovering rare earth elements and critical minerals from such sources. The length of the severance tax is to allow businesses and the universities the time needed to develop and prove the technology and to still be able to benefit from the tax exemption. Such efforts for rare earth elements and critical minerals will help decrease the United States’ dependence on foreign supply chains for such materials and bolster our national and energy securities. Developing West Virginia’s own uranium supply could allow the state cheaper ways of sourcing and obtaining its own nuclear fuel for reactors which might be deployed here, as well as generating another source of income for the state should it wish to sell rare earth minerals or critical minerals to other states or entities.
HB 3012 passed the House Energy and Manufacturing Committee and is now on its way to the House Finance Committee before going before the full House floor for a vote, and then on to the Senate. Read HB 3012.
Third is HB 2867, which is a Bill that would add to the powers and duties of the WV Public Service Commission (“PSC”) and have the PSC promulgate rules to govern the issuance of permits for the construction, use, and retirement of advanced nuclear reactors. The language of the Bill adds the following under the PSC’s oversight: “Any customer, entity or developer wishing to use advanced nuclear reactors; Provided, That the commission shall promulgate rules to govern the issuance of permits for the construction of, and the use and retirement of advanced nuclear reactors within the state.” “Effective July 1, 2023, in addition to all other powers and duties of the commission as defined in this article, the commission shall establish, prescribe, and enforce rules to govern the issuance of permits for the construction of, and the use and retirement of advanced nuclear reactors.”
HB 2867 would enhance the certainty and clarity which advanced nuclear companies hope to see in a jurisdiction in which they might do business. Without knowing what the rules and regulations that will be imposed upon them will look like, the nuclear companies will be hesitant to enter the state. HB 2867 has been introduced in the House Energy and Manufacturing Committee but has yet to be voted on in said committee. If passed by the House Energy and Manufacturing Committee, it would head directly to the House floor for a vote, and if passed there as well, then on to the Senate. Read HB 2867.
Finally, in a great stride forward for nuclear energy in the State, House Members adopted House Concurrent Resolution 11, which urges both Marshall and WVU to work with the WVU Institute of Technology and the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission to lead an education consortium and work toward developing the policies and programs necessary to facilitate nuclear energy developments in West Virginia; and require the consortium to work with private industry representatives to identify and recommend nuclear policies to the Legislature to allow West Virginia to remain a leader in energy production. The resolution is pending in the Senate Education Committee, and if passed by the Committee it will go to the full Senate for a final vote.
WV House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, stated the following concerning House Concurrent Resolution 11 and all efforts toward nuclear energy:
“I’m proud we’ve been able to work together with so many partners to maximize the opportunities that go along with developing nuclear energy projects in the Mountain State. With our repeal last year of the previous ban on constructing nuclear energy projects and our latest efforts to become an agreement state with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, we’re now able to turn our attention toward mobilizing the highly trained workforce that will be necessary to bring these types of projects to fruition. I’m confident all these moves are keeping the state in its position as a national energy leader well into the future as we continue making it even easier to choose West Virginia.”
The above is from a press release from the House of Delegates on February 4, 2023.
The West Virginia Legislature is acting efficiently and effectively when it comes to nuclear energy. They see the great opportunity it has to be a key part of West Virginia’s all-of-the-above strategy, and how it can help revitalize our energy communities, support our manufacturers, and provide jobs to our many skilled workers.