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Resolution Proposes To Study Use Of Nuclear Power At Colstrip Power Plant

The smoke stacks from the Colstrip Steam Electric Station rise over a field in the foreground.
Kayla Desroches
Yellowstone Public Radio
Colstrip coal fired power plant in October 2020.

A proposed investigation into transitioning Montana’s Colstrip coal-fired power plant from coal to nuclear power drew widespread support Thursday at a Senate committee hearing.

Senate Joint Resolution 3, if passed, would trigger a feasibility study of replacing coal-fired boilers with Advanced Small Modular Reactors at Colstrip.

Republican Senator Terry Gauthier from Helena introduced the resolution to his fellow members of the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee Thursday. He said modern-day nuclear reactors are more affordable, smaller and cleaner than the nuclear reactors of years past.

“I truly do believe the small modular reactor facilities is the future of power generation baseload power for every state across the country. This is our future,” Gauthier said.

Ten different groups and individuals shared their support during public comment, including Anne Hedges with advocacy group Montana Environmental Information Center.

“There is a really, really important debate going on all across the country about whether this is the right direction we should go, and I think it’s a good idea for Montana to get ahead of it,” Hedges said.

Hedges called herself a nuclear skeptic and asked for an amendment that calls for the evaluation of nuclear reactor waste and the collection of feedback from Colstrip residents.

“We’re not gonna overcome skepticism like I have and like so many people across the state have unless we also include things about the safety and the waste stream and making sure that the people living in the vicinity of something like this are okay with it, are on board,” Hedges said.

Other supporters included several unions, and associations and NorthWestern Energy, who see an opportunity for more jobs, higher tax revenue and energy base load in nuclear power.

NorthWestern Energy government affairs director David Hoffman spoke on behalf of the utility, a part owner in the Colstrip power plant. He said the NorthWestern’s goals include building its power capacity and decreasing carbon emissions.

“Now I don’t know much about small-scale nuclear. I can’t really talk to the components of that, but I do look forward to being part of the discussion in the interim if you see fit to pass this bill through the study resolution and I see it as at least a potential to meet both of those issues that I’ve talked about, the capacity shortfall and the carbon,” Hoffman said.

No opponents spoke against the resolution.

The committee took no action on the resolution Thursday.

The Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee has not yet decided if it will pass the proposed study out of committee. If it does, the study calls for an interim committee to study the feasibility of replacing coal-fired power with nuclear power and present its results before September 2022.

Kayla writes about energy policy, the oil and gas industry and new electricity developments.