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Senators soon could be debating nuclear bill

Missouri senators soon could be debating Ameren Missouri’s proposal to have ratepayers pay the costs of seeking an early site permit for a possible second nuclear power plant in Callaway County.

Jefferson City Republican Mike Kehoe’s bill was added this week to a measure sponsored by Sen. Robin Wright-Jones, D-St. Louis, that provides a permanent funding plan for the Office of Public Counsel.

The Senate’s Commerce, Consumer Protection, Energy and the Environment Committee then recommended that the full Senate pass the bill.

“It’s my plan to have the bill brought back to the Senate (today), and placed on the perfection calendar,” Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, told a reporter Wednesday afternoon. “It will be ready for (debate) next week.”

In the Legislature, the “perfection” process is where amendments are debated and — if enough lawmakers agree — added to a proposed law.

That debate is held on one day and, then, a different day is used for the “third-reading” action, which is an up-or-down vote with no chances for any other amendments to be added.

Although the president pro tem determines when a committee’s report will be accepted, the floor leader schedules the actual debate times.

“I don’t have any House bills to go to on the calendar yet, so I’ll work on what I have,” Floor Leader Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, said Wednesday night.

“I’ve been supportive of the bill that would, I guess, provide for some greater impetus for new nuclear generation in Missouri.

“So, we’ll get it on the calendar and get it to the floor — I’d like some debate.”

Supporters of the plan say asking the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for an early site permit is a first-step in the process of designing, and building, a nuclear reactor for electricity generation.

State Rep. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, sponsors the House version of the proposal, and has said several times the engineering and scientific work needed to win the NRC’s blessing will answer many questions about whether the current Callaway Nuclear Plant near Reform remains a safe location for a nuclear reactor.

In the 1970s, Union Electric Co. officials planned to use the site for up to four reactors — but federal regulations and scientific knowledge uncovered in the last 30-40 years could affect the site’s use and the kinds of reactors and accompanying buildings a company might be able to build.

The group Missourians for a Balanced Energy Future supports Ameren’s interests in a second plant and the formation of a coalition that includes almost all of the state’s investor-owned, electric cooperative and municipal electricity producers.

It called Tuesday’s Senate Commerce Committee action “a positive step for energy and the economy in Missouri.”

But Executive Director Irl Scissors said in a news release: “The responsibility for moving this bill forward falls to Senate Pro Tem Rob Mayer, who has previously delayed this legislation.”

Mayer disagreed.

“I’ve not tried to block the effort at all,” he told a reporter. “I’m not opposed to nuclear power expansion — my main concern is, how do you pay for it?”

Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, sponsored a different early site permit bill, also allowing Ameren Missouri to seek a change in the 1976, voter-approved law that prohibits utility companies from charging customers for any planning and construction costs before a plant is serving those ratepayers.

He chairs the Veterans’ Affairs, Emerging Issues, Pensions and Urban Affairs Committee, which heard testimony for nearly seven hours four weeks ago on both his bill and Kehoe’s — but the committee hasn’t met since then nor discussed what to do with either bill.

Crowell had no reaction when asked Wednesday about the Commerce Committee’s action.

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