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Legislation would allow Millstone to expand

A bill passed in this spring's legislative session would exempt Millstone Power Station from a state nuclear power facility construction moratorium.

The bill is meant to allow the state’s existing nuclear power facilities — Millstone — to expand to other nuclear technologies on-site, but not to build a third full-scale reactor.

As Dominion Energy New England Policy Director Mary Nuara wrote in public testimony on the bill, “Dominion Energy supports the state’s efforts to explore all options available, including advanced nuclear technologies like small modular reactors, to achieve its long-term decarbonization goals.”

Nuara said there are no immediate plans by Dominion to add a small modular reactors to the Millstone site, as the commercial viability of the technology is "many years away." But Dominion supports the new bill.

"(Dominion) supports Connecticut taking this first step to allow exploration of all forms of clean energy generation to see how they could contribute to the state’s clean energy economy, today and in the future,” Nuara added.

The bill was supported on a bipartisan basis in both the state House and Senate. Senate Bill 10, also passed this past legislative session, requires the state to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from electricity supplied to Connecticut customers by 2040. 

“That doesn’t happen without nuclear,” state Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, a co-sponsor of the bill, said. “Renewables are all fine, but they’re never going to be a reliable source of base load power. The price of battery storage and other kind of storage is still so high that it becomes economically unviable, particularly if you’re looking at ratepayer impact.”

Cheeseman said she and other legislators, as well as Millstone, see “incredible potential" in the small nuclear reactors. 

“They’re called small modular reactors, and they’re basically what powers small nuclear submarines,” Cheeseman said. “It’s not a huge plant. It’s much less waste. It has a much less elaborate cooling system. … These are seen as a way of adding to our base load power without the expense of building traditional nuclear reactors like Millstone 1 and Millstone 2.” 

State Sen. Norm Needleman, D-Essex, the Senate chair of the Energy & Technology Committee, described the logic behind the bill.

“We want to keep Millstone alive, and we need to meet all of our clean energy goals,” Needleman said. 

Legislators were originally going to nix the moratorium entirely, but Needleman said legislators compromised to restrict the bill only to the Millstone site. 

"It’s not a blank check to Dominion to build anywhere,” he said. 

Cheeseman, Needleman and state Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, noted that there is federal movement on designating a nuclear waste repository. U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, 2nd District, told state legislators as much during consideration of the bill.

“We got a letter from Congressman Courtney to say there’s some money to study the issue of a national repository for nuclear waste," Formica said. "We felt that finally the federal delegation is stepping up. Waterford First Selectman Rob Brule has sent letters of concern about having nuclear waste in Waterford, and I share that concern and hope we can move it out of there, but for the time being, look what’s happening to the costs of fuel and power.”

The federal government had originally committed to taking possession of nuclear waste from facilities like Millstone but later reneged, meaning Millstone stores its used fuel on site. 

In addition to spent fuel pools, Millstone has dry storage in metal canisters encased in concrete, which can be stored for decades.

On Wednesday, Courtney said there are federal efforts to find a national repository underway, with $20 million allocated in the federal budget both last year and this year for a Request for Information process where the federal government seeks localities that would welcome such a repository. Courtney said the budget for 2023 contains $53 million to that effect.

“The comment period for the RFI closed out early March, and that was for communities to respond to the RFI in terms of interest in this program,” Courtney said. “We’ve heard from the Department of Energy that 225 responses came in. Again, they’re not an actual bid on the program, but it’s a request for information, they want to learn more, which is good. That shows that people put their hands up and at least want to find out more.”

Courtney said the plan is for the DOE to issue a report this year describing the RFI response.

"There’s going to be additional funding, and I think bigger funding, in the 2023 budget once we finish that, which is months and months away," Courtney said. 

Kevin Hennessy, a senior policy director and spokesperson at Dominion Energy, said this week that the company’s position in the public testimony submitted months ago remains the same: there are no plans in the near term to build for more nuclear power in the form of small modular reactors.

“We’re excited about the prospect, so as a company we’re engaged with some of the folks involved in that technology,” Hennessy said. “We’re bullish on the future, so while we don’t have any current plans right now, the possibility of the future is always appealing.” 

Dominion views Millstone as “the clean energy hub of New England, and we’d like to build that out," Hennessy said. 

“Right now, it’s conventional nuclear, but the sky’s the limit essentially when you think about solar, wind, hydrogen, small modular reactors, all of those would be zero-carbon and add to Millstone’s value,” Hennessy said.

Cheeseman also noted that the company is looking to offer more power in other New England states and could need to expand for that reason as well.

Hennessy confirmed that if Millstone decides to build and there is still no federal site for nuclear waste designated, it would have to continue to store the spent fuel on site, whether that be large-scale or small-scale modular units.

Gov. Ned Lamont's office said he was reviewing the bill and did not indicate whether he was leaning for or against signing it into law.

s.spinella@theday.com

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