- Views & Opinions
From WiG reports
Gov. Scott Walker has signed into law a bill lifting Wisconsin’s ban on new nuclear plants.
Under prior law, regulators could not approve a new nuclear plant unless a federal facility for storing waste existed and the plant didn’t burden ratepayers.
The new bill, signed five years after the meltdowns at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant, erases the storage and ratepayer clauses from the state law enacted in 1983. That was four years after a meltdown at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania and three years before the explosion and fire at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine.
The bill’s Republican authors argued nuclear power is a renewable energy source and the ratepayer language duplicates other sections of state law that require regulators to determine that any new power plant won’t burden customers.
Republican state Rep. Kevin Petersen, in a memo introducing the bill, described nuclear power as affordable, clean, safe and necessary.
Proponents argue Wisconsin needs nuclear options to comply with the Obama administration’s clean power plan requiring energy producers to reduce carbon emissions.
That’s the very argument being made by Koch Industries and other fossil fuel giants who vehemently oppose wind and solar energy. The industry’s sway over Walker and the state’s GOP majority is widely believed to be the reason why green renewables in Wisconsin lag other states in the region.
Since 1997, the Koch brothers have personally spent at least $80 million persuading the public that climate change is a hoax, and Exxon-Mobil and other energy companies have spent many tens of millions more.
Meanwhile, environmentalists view nuclear energy as an unmitigated disaster.
“Nuclear energy is a distraction from realistic, cost-effective methods to reduce carbon emissions in Wisconsin: energy efficiency and renewable energy,” the Clean Wisconsin environmental group said in a statement on AB 384. “Nuclear is exorbitantly expensive and new plants take decades to get up and running.”
According to the Sierra Club, nuclear power has a huge carbon footprint, despite the carbon industry’s claims to the contrary. Carbon energy powers uranium mining, milling, processing, conversion and enrichment, as well as the formulation of fuel rods and construction of plants.
The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters also opposed the law, referring to it as the “Nuking Wisconsin’s Energy Priorities Law.” The group urged the public to lobby legislators against allowing nuclear power plants in the state.
The Sierra Club-John Muir Chapter opposed the measure, as did the national Sierra Club, which remains “unequivocally opposed to nuclear energy.”
“Although nuclear plants have been in operation for less than 60 years, we now have seen three serious disasters,” a statement from the environmental group reads. “Nuclear is no solution to climate change and every dollar spent on nuclear is one less dollar spent on truly safe, affordable and renewable energy sources.”
The Sierra Club’s nuclear-free campaign emphasizes:
• The issue of what to do with the long-lived waste created by the fissioning of uranium remains unresolved.
• Uranium mining has contaminated large sections of the southwestern United States and many other areas in the world.
• Older nuclear plants sit in areas more densely populated than when they were built and almost all leak tritium and other radionuclides into groundwater.
• Newer nuclear plants remain expensive and need enormous amounts of water.
An additional concern in Wisconsin, according to the Carbon-Free, Nuclear-Free Coalition, is passage of the pro-nuclear bill could lead to the state becoming a depository for nuclear waste.
The coalition has warned passage of the bill could “send a strong message to the Department of Energy that Wisconsin is open to hosting a nuclear waste repository. In the 1980s, the DOE ranked Wisconsin’s Wolf River Batholith as No. 2 for a second high-level nuclear waste repository. A 2008 Department of Energy study on the Need for a Second Repository listed Wisconsin as one of the top potential states based on our granite geology. After the cancellation of the potential Yucca Mountain repository, the DOE is desperate to find an alternative.”
Wisconsin currently has one operational nuclear power plant, Point Beach, north of Two Rivers.
About 15.5 percent of Wisconsin’s electricity is nuclear, 62.3 comes from coal, 13.2 percent natural gas, 3.4 percent hydroelectric and 5.5 percent renewable.
Find more environmental news at www.wisconsingazette.com.