By Amanda Eggert, Montana Free Press

Two bills that would facilitate nuclear energy development in the state are cruising through the Capitol, and Montana Free Press is investigating what these measures could mean for Montana’s energy future. The first installment of this two-part series looked at House Bill 273, which proposes significant changes to how the public can engage in nuclear development decisions. In Part II we explore emerging nuclear technology that some Montana lawmakers laud as a smaller, safer and more affordable source of energy than the nuclear power plants of the past.

At the same time the House was reviewing a bill sponsored by Rep. Derek Skees, R-Kalispell, to remove restrictions on nuclear development, the Senate was at work on Senate Joint Resolution 3, which directs the state to study advanced nuclear reactors. The resolution appears well-positioned to pass — halfway through the session, SJ 3 has garnered unanimous support in the Senate.

Sponsor Terry Gauthier, R-Helena, becomes audibly excited discussing the measure. He said he sees modern nuclear technology as away for Montana to send electrons to the energy-thirsty markets of the Pacific Northwest by tying into the high-voltage transmission lines leading out of Colstrip.

Gauthier said he became interested in modern — and much smaller — nuclear reactors when a constituent brought them to his attention as a possible replacement for the coal-fired power plant in Colstrip, the productive future of which is saddled with uncertainty. He said he sees the technology as a carbon-free energy source for the future that could help the state meet its power needs while preserving some existing jobs and infrastructure in Colstrip. 

“It’s a great opportunity for Montana to explore this technology,” he said. “I truly do believe that this is our future across the country.” 

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