On the second of November, 1976, Jimmy Carter won the presidential election. On that same ballot another election issue was approved by Missouri voters. It was known as “Proposition 1.” It prohibited electrical corporations from cost recovery during construction of power plants. It remains a Missouri statute to this day (see section 393.135 of RSMO).
In April of 1976 just ahead of that election, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued the construction permit for Missouri’s only nuclear power plant, Ameren’s Callaway Energy Center. Looking back now, the world of 1976 is hardly recognizable. Personal computers weren’t mass marketed until 1977, and cell phones didn’t become publicly available until 1984.
And nuclear fission was a frightful topic in 1976. Ghastly pictures of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were still indelible upon our minds. Kids were taught about fallout shelters and radiation sickness at school. Many public buildings were prominently marked with the foreboding yellow and black signs that designated them as fallout shelters.
It was no surprise that Proposition 1 passed handily in that environment. For many it was a vote against a powerfully destructive force that hadn’t fully demonstrated its peacetime usefulness.
In 1984 that first power generating unit at the Callaway site became operational, but the second planned unit was never built. Referring to the failed Unit 2, Wikipedia says: “One stumbling block was a law that forbids utilities to charge customers for the interest accrued on a construction loan before a new plant produces electricity.”
Then in 2012 Ameren and Westinghouse, with Governor Nixon’s public endorsement, joined forces to seek federal funding for research and development of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) in Missouri. Hundreds of millions of federal dollars were available at that time for developing the next generation of nuclear power plants. Missouri failed to garner even a dime of those funds, and the plan was doomed. Many believe section 393.135 contributed to the project’s demise.
That initiative petition vote in 1976 had plastered a big “anti-nuclear energy” label on our state.
Now with talk of a repeal of 393.135 in the air, opponents that represent other interests are crying foul. “You can’t oppose the will of Missouri voters,” they say. Please note: No Missourian today under the age of sixty-one voted in that election. The will of the people can change with time, and it has been a long, long time.
Of course measures to protect electric utility rate payers from abandoned construction projects must be included in any replacement legislation. Prefiled HB 1784 known as the “Missouri Nuclear Clean Power Act” will provide such protection while freeing nuclear energy from its Proposition 1 restraints.
The time has come for the Missouri Legislature to fix a law that poses such a formidable barrier to an entire industry. A fair shake in the energy marketplace for all the players will allow Missouri to develop a strong and diverse energy portfolio capable of powering our robots, electric vehicles and hyperloops of tomorrow.
Ron Boyer is a member of the Missouri Air Conservation Commission.