Wisconsin Reevaluating Nuclear Power?

Last month Wisconsin lawmakers moved to repeal a ban preventing the construction of new nuclear power plants in the state. Sponsored by Republican State Representative Kevin Petersen, he's worked to re-frame the discussion around nuclear, introducing it as "affordable, clean, safe and necessary." Peterson said he introduced the bill to give the state more flexibility in complying with federally mandated carbon emission reduction goals. In a public hearing in November, no opposition was voiced about the plan, which has seen strong bipartisan support. It was approved by the Wisconsin Assembly on January 12 and now goes to the state senate.

In 1983, legislation sponsored by State Representative Lloyd Kincaid (D) included clauses specifying that new nuclear plants could not be built unless a federal facility was available to store nuclear waste. The bill also required that any new plants must be "economically advantageous to ratepayers." Kincaid was concerned that his district would be considered for nuclear waste disposal because of its large amount of granite bedrock. The new bill introduced by Rep. Peterson is intended to repeal two criteria for a nuclear plant to be licensed – that there be a federal facility to house spent fuel and that any new facility be advantageous to ratepayers. In addition to these changes, the bill prioritizes nuclear energy ahead of oil, coal and natural gas.

Much has changed in the 33 years since the moratorium ruling. The demand for electric energy, particularly from Wisconsin's manufacturing sector, continues to grow. At the same time, the demand for more energy-efficient, renewable sources of power is more crucial than ever. Michael Corradini, professor of engineering physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has expressed his support for the bill saying, "Nuclear power is probably the most important way to deal with climate change as a reliable and baseload method of electrical energy production." 

WEC Energy Group in Milwaukee is another supporter of the legislation, but as of today the company has no plans to build a nuclear plant in the state. Any new nuclear facility would take so long to build that it would not necessarily help meet 2030 emission reduction goals set by the Clean Power Plan, but these legislative measures would ensure its place in the conversation. 

The bill's chief sponsor in the state senate is Sen. Frank Lasee, R-De Pere. Republicans are in favor of the legislation because they believe it will give a boost to business and industry, and Governor Scott Walker has indicated his strong support. The Wisconsin Pipe Trades Association and Steamfitters Local 61 also back the legislation, in the hope that it will create jobs. Democrats in the Assembly voted for the bill along with Republicans, balancing the risks of nuclear power against the ongoing threat of climate change.

Reducing carbon emissions by burning less fossil fuel is a vital step in mitigating the greenhouse effects that are already being felt around the world. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 65 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are the result of burning fossil fuels, and the production of energy is the primary cause of these emissions. Luckily, however, large power provider Dominion Ohio states that renewable energy use is increasing, with 13 percent of the United States’ energy generated from sources that don’t emit carbon - including nuclear.

The repeal of the moratorium doesn't mean that there will be new nuclear plants under construction in Wisconsin immediately. Certain anti-nuclear activists have expressed concern that lifting the restriction on the construction of new power plants will open the door to Wisconsin becoming federal waste repository state. However, nuclear power has been proven to be over 90 percent efficient and the U.S. now has a history of its safe use. Nationwide, as more states begin reconsidering the many benefits of this form of power generation, we can hope to see more new nuclear plants up and running within the next few decades. 

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  • Anonymous

    "Certain anti-nuclear activists have expressed concern... to Wisconsin becoming federal waste repository state."

    If they really considered the value of "storing" that waste inside MOX fuel, they might be clamoring for a couple nuclear plants in Wisconsin.