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(The Center Square) – A Kentucky lawmaker told colleagues last week that he wants them to “keep an open mind” about the possibilities for nuclear energy in the state.

State Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Benton, made the remark at the end of last Thursday’s Interim Joint Committee on Natural Resources and Energy meeting in Frankfort. The nearly two-hour meeting included a 40-minute discussion on nuclear feasibility, with presentations by representatives from the U.S. Nuclear Industry Council, the Idaho National Laboratory, and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

“I’m convinced that nuclear is the baseload energy of the future in this country,” Carroll said.

Five years ago, the state Legislature voted to end a moratorium on nuclear power plants in Kentucky. However, Carroll noted there’s been no progress toward developing such a plant because of the inexpensive cost of natural gas.

Kentucky has long been known as a leading coal-producing state, but the use of coal has slipped dramatically in recent years.

Coal served as the dominant source for U.S. electricity production for decades, and according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, coal was the leading source as recently as 2015.

Since then, natural gas has emerged as the leading source. Last year, natural gas generated 38% of electricity. The remainder was almost divided evenly between coal, nuclear and all renewable sources. Coal was responsible for 22% and nuclear for 19%, but the sources are trending in opposite directions.

Bob Deacy, a TVA senior vice president, told the committee that the utility provider aims to reduce its carbon footprint – such as using fewer fossil fuels, like coal – by 80% by 2035 and become carbon-free by 2050.

As a result, the TVA, which already generates nearly 40% of its power from nuclear, is looking at advanced nuclear technologies to help it meet its carbon-free goal. Deacy said as it considers future sites for a nuclear plant, the TVA would look at sites in Kentucky.

Nuclear power does come with questions about safety since it deals with containing radioactive materials. Joe Shea, the authority’s vice president for advanced nuclear technology, told lawmakers there currently is no federal plan to deal with nuclear waste, but the 92 reactors currently operating use on-site storage facilities that have stored waste for decades.

Kentucky has had a connection with nuclear energy as the U.S. Department of Energy operated the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant. The Western Kentucky facility, located in Carroll’s district, produced enriched uranium for more than 60 years until 2013. The site is being remediated.

Carroll said there might be ways to take the spent fuel at the old Paducah plan and “reenrich” it to make it viable for energy production.

With coal in decline, the senator said Kentucky needs to find a new main source of energy. He said he wants to see a nuclear industry organization created in the state and believes it can garner bipartisan support.

“We have to be careful that we don’t get behind, and I’m afraid that’s where we’re headed,” he said. “We’re going to let other states get in front of us, and as far as economic development with low-cost power, they’re going to clean our clock in that area.”