Boone County commissioner Dan Atwill named chair of energy task force

Monday, July 23, 2012 | 7:43 p.m. CDT; updated 10:29 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 23, 2012

COLUMBIA — Boone County Presiding Commissioner Dan Atwill will chair a task force aimed at readying five Missouri counties for new nuclear technology.

Gov. Jay Nixon announced the creation of this Local Government Task Force Monday at a gathering of local and state legislators, business officials and the leaders of Westinghouse Electric Co. and Ameren Missouri.

The task force is a part of Missouri's ongoing attempt to win a share of a $452 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, which is set to be used for investment in small nuclear reactors, or small modular reactors, Nixon said.

The group is made up of five presiding commissioners from counties that are most likely to be affected by the installation of new reactors: Boone, Callaway, Cole, Osage and Phelps.

While large nuclear reactors tend to produce about 1,200 megawatts of energy, small modular reactors are typically designed to produce a maximum of 300 megawatts. Unlike the larger reactors, modular reactors are cheaper and faster to construct and can be built off-site in factories and then shipped to their destination.

Warner Baxter, the president of Ameren, said the construction of one modular reactor could directly create 9,500 jobs and indirectly create 9,100 jobs.

Atwill said that until the recipients of the grant are announced, the new task force will focus on meeting with Westinghouse and Ameren officials to find out what would be required to support new reactor construction.

Westinghouse and Ameren created a partnership in April and are currently competing against at least three other partnerships for a share of the grant.

Due to its nuclear research capacity, the UM System will also play a role in planning for new reactors if Westinghouse is granted money, Baxter and Nixon said.

"We’re providing the playing field for the university, Westinghouse and Ameren from which they can hit home runs," Atwill said, adding that the five counties would be providing a large part of the work force and support that would be needed for plant construction.

Atwill said one of the first steps the group is taking is going on a "fact-finding mission" by touring Ameren's nuclear plant in Callaway County.

Ameren, the state's main utility provider, hopes to use the grant money to build and operate five small modular reactors in Missouri. If awarded the money, Ameren would use designs provided by Westinghouse for the modular reactors. The new plants would most likely be built near the Callaway plant, the state's only operating nuclear reactor.

Nixon also announced the appointment of Jason Hall, the deputy director of Missouri Department of Economic Development, to a Westinghouse readiness committee. The governor said the local task force, in conjunction with the committee, would allow Missouri to "make sure it is engaged at all levels" so the state could "hit the ground running" if it is awarded the grant.

Local, state and university leaders sounded confident of Missouri's chances in its bid for the grant, calling the opportunity "transformational" for the state:

  • UM System President Tim Wolfe called the grant a "wonderful opportunity for the state" and said it offered good future employment opportunities for the system's engineering students.
  • Nixon said the rivers running through the state made Missouri a "convenient location" because of shipping possibilities. The governor also said more than 500 letters had been sent to the Department of Energy in support of the Westinghouse application and that all of the state's electric providers supported the application as well. 
  • Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said the timing of the project was "perfect" and that Missouri had the resources necessary to go through with building the plants if the state is awarded the grant.

The energy department is set to announce the grant recipients by September.

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