Midwest Democracy | A second nuclear reactor ahead for Missouri?

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and energy officials are to announce plans today that could include the development of another nuclear reactor in the state.

The Democratic governor’s office called the plans significant for energy development and economic growth in Missouri. Nixon and officials from Ameren Missouri and Westinghouse Electric are scheduled to make the formal announcement this afternoon at the Missouri Governor’s Mansion.

A Nixon spokesman declined to provide further details Wednesday before the planned announcement.

Kansas City Power & Light also declined to comment. But about a year ago, when Ameren said it was interested in building a nuclear power plant, KCP&L said it would be supportive of the St. Louis utility’s efforts but wasn’t interested in taking an ownership stake.

The state’s lone existing nuclear power plant is in Callaway County about 25 miles northeast of the state Capitol and is operated by St. Louis-based Ameren Missouri. Officials twice in recent years have tried to clear the way for construction of an additional nuclear power plant, but those efforts have bogged down in the General Assembly.

State lawmakers in 2009 considered a measure that would have let utilities seek state regulators’ permission to include the financing costs for certain types of new power plants in consumer bills before the plant is operational. Last year, legislators considered a proposal to allow power companies to seek permission from the Public Service Commission to charge customers for the cost of getting an early site permit from federal regulators for a possible second nuclear power plant.

A state law approved by voters in 1976 bars utilities from charging customers for the costs of a new power plant before it starts producing electricity.

Power companies and others have argued that changes are needed to move toward possibly expanding nuclear power in Missouri. But those efforts have faced opposition amid concerns from consumers and industrial energy users about protections for electric ratepayers.

In November 2010, Nixon endorsed the idea of allowing utilities to charge customers for the costs of obtaining an early site permit. At that time, a coalition of utilities that included Ameren Missouri, Empire District Electric, Kansas City Power & Light, electric cooperatives and municipal utilities announced they were considering seeking an early site permit for a second nuclear plant.

Nixon said that building a second nuclear plant would create thousands of jobs in Missouri and that the idea included consumer protections.

Last month, Westinghouse Electric said it would apply to the U.S. Department of Energy for up to $452 million worth of investment funds that have been approved by Congress to assist the development and use of small modular reactor technology. The company announced it would apply for the federal funds with a group of utilities.