Editorialists eager for new nukes | WisCommunity

Editorialists eager for new nukes

The Nov. 2 votes had barely been tabulated when the campaign to expand nuclear power in Wisconsin began - not in the state Capitol but on the state's editorial pages.

Wisconsin's two largest newspapers editorialized in favor of repealing a 1984 law regulating new reactor construction in the state, both saying the state should consider all energy options and that nuclear energy is a clean alternative. The governor-elect and Republican legislative leadership already agree and are likely to act in the next session.

The current law, often referred to as a moratorium, does not ban new nuclear reactors. It simply says new reactors must meet two tests: 1) they must be economically viable, and 2) there must be a federal repository to dispose of the high-level radioactive waste they generate.

"Safety is paramount," the headline on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Nov. 10 editorial said. But it dismissed in one sentence the issue of nuclear waste disposal, saying simply that while serious, "we believe those issues can be resolved."

Madison's Wisconsin State Journal, which has long been beating the pro-nuclear drums, said:

"Technology has improved safety and efficiency. Some countries, such as France and Japan, are even recycling their spent fuel."

In fact, after more than 50 years of producing nuclear power and its high-level radioactive waste byproduct, the nuclear industry and federal government still have no safe, permanent way to dispose of the deadly material - so deadly that it must be kept out of the environment and away from humans for hundreds of thousands of years.

No country in the world has a permanent solution. French-style reprocessing actually increases, long-term, the volume of waste that must be disposed of, a study by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research found.

Meanwhile, the waste continues to pile up at reactor sites all across the country, including Wisconsin's Point Beach and Kewaunee reactors, making them prime targets for terrorists as well as putting them at risk for accidents.

Those are old reactors, built in the 1970s. Between them, the three reactors produce about 20% of the state's power.

The Florida utility that owns Point Beach wants to expand its production by 17% next year, even though Wisconsin consumers are now paying higher rates because Wisconsin has a surplus of electricity.

Katie Nekola of Clean Wisconsin succinctly summarized the objections: "It raises serious safety concerns that they want to put more stress on aging reactors that are already being pushed beyond their expected life span. Moreover, there is no justification for pushing these old reactors harder when we don't need the power."

Gale Klappa, CEO of Wisconsin Energies Corp., told the Journal Sentinel last May: "Those power plants were brought into service in the 1970s. No one in the world has yet operated a nuclear power plant safely for more than 50 years."

Klappa and the industry see that as a rationale to build new reactors. Actually, it provides an opportunity to re-evaluate Wisconsin's energy needs and decide whether nuclear power should be part of the mix. Contrary to the assertions of the industry and the editorialists, nuclear energy is dirty, expensive and dangerous, not safe, clean and cheap. The reason there have been no reactors built for 35 years is not that Wisconsin has a moratorium in place; it is that nuclear energy only makes economic sense with huge taxpayer subsidies.

Rather than take it on faith that technology will solve the seemingly insoluble problem of waste disposal, leaving the current law in place will provide an incentive to find a solution before new reactors are built to produce more of the high-level waste without knowing how to dispose of it.

The current state law is common sense. It has served Wisconsin well for 25 years. At a time when we are awash in surplus energy, it would be shortsighted, and perhaps suicidal, to repeal it.

(Published as an op ed column in the Nov. 17 Journal Sentinel.


November 17, 2010 - 3:34pm