In May, Kentucky’s blue skies and green grass were the backdrop for a refreshingly candid conversation about nuclear energy. The Energy Communities Alliance’s “Nuclear Development Forum: Building Capacity and Opportunity” transcended party politics and asked the tough questions: How do we revitalize small and struggling American communities, and can nuclear energy help?

Kentucky Republican State Senator Danny Carroll thought so. He declared Kentucky ready for nuclear energy. Meanwhile, local officials like Paducah Mayor George P. Bray would love to see some of that nuclear construction happen nearby. Bray is on the hunt for opportunities to reindustrialize Paducah, home to the decommissioned Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant. Workers at that site enriched uranium for nuclear weapons and reactors until 2013. But the cleanup of the site employs far fewer people than the plant did during operation. 

It’s easy for us to talk about the coal-to-nuclear transition from Washington, D.C. It’s another thing to live in a coal community and look out toward an uncertain future. Kentucky began commercial coal production in 1790, which peaked at more than 173 million tons in 1990. “Communities are losing something that we’ve done for over 200 years as a state,” said Kenya Stump, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Energy Policy, who is tirelessly working to ensure that those communities remain strong as the country continues to undergo an energy transition.

Practitioners of this work shared the lessons they’ve learned: Talk is cheap — get on the ground in these communities if you want your project to succeed (and that goes for federal officials, too). Prioritize local engagements in advance of a siting decision. Develop robust public-private partnerships. And make nuclear projects as cost-competitive with other energy infrastructure as possible, or utilities won’t pick it and risk over-increasing their ratepayers’ energy burden.

Good Energy was proud to cosponsor this forum – a packed two days that left our team with a sense of the spirit of innovation, collaboration, and continued learning that local leaders from small energy communities are bringing to the table. Our challenge now is to show up for them.