FRANKFORT — Although Kentucky is known to experience earthquakes, the explosions and radiation leaks at a nuclear power plant in earthquake-ravaged Japan should not discourage the state from expanding into nuclear power, state Sen. Bob Leeper, a Paducah independent, said Monday.
For the past three years, including the just-concluded 2011 legislative session, Leeper has sponsored bills that would repeal the state's moratorium on the construction of nuclear power plants in Kentucky. His latest effort was approved by the Senate 31-5 on Feb. 8 but died in the House.
"It's way too early to talk about throwing in the towel," Leeper said.
"As with any other disaster, you've got to see how everything plays out," he said. "You've got to wait and see what works and what doesn't work. It's too early to determine whether or not this makes the case that we can safely develop nuclear energy."
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Part of Kentucky lies atop the New Madrid Fault, which has spawned powerful earthquakes. But news reports suggest last week's massive tsunami did more damage at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station than the earthquake that preceded it, Leeper said.
"We don't get tsunamis in Kentucky," he said.
In 1984, Kentucky placed a moratorium on the construction of nuclear power plants in the state until the federal government approved a permanent disposal facility for the nation's nuclear waste. That has not happened.
Lawmakers said they were reacting to leaks and other environmental problems at Maxey Flats, a radioactive waste site in Fleming County. About 4.7 million cubic feet of radioactive waste was buried at Maxey Flats from 1963 until the site closed in 1977. The state spent years afterward trying to properly secure the site.
State Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, said she consistently votes against Leeper's nuclear power bills because she grew up near Maxey Flats and, as a lawyer, has represented one of the workers injured there.
Webb said she doesn't object to a debate about nuclear power. But she wants the government to proceed with caution before it approves anything, she said. Places known for earthquake activity, such as Kentucky, need to be sure they can build facilities that would withstand any known threat, she said.
"You see the inherent risks right now in Japan," Webb said. "The best-built, best-operated, best-regulated systems in the world are in Japan. But natural disasters still can occur that put people at risk.
"As a lawyer, I think in terms of the worst-case scenario, and that's how I think as a legislator, too. If we're going to proceed with this, we have to provide for every possible contingency."