Push for more nukes in Wis. slowed, not stopped by crisis in Japan | Wis.Community

Push for more nukes in Wis. slowed, not stopped by crisis in Japan

Opening the door for expanded nuclear power in Wisconsin was one of the items the new Republican majority in Madison planned to railroad through this spring. But that appears to be on hold, Tom Content of the Journal Sentinel reports:

State Rep. Mark Honadel (R-South Milwaukee) said he still plans to co-sponsor a bill this year that would overturn the moratorium on new reactors, which was enacted in 1983 in the aftermath of the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident in Pennsylvania.

Because of the crisis in Japan, though, Honadel said he would not submit the legislation immediately.

"Out of courtesy, we should relax a little bit and let everything settle down over there and see how severe the ramifications are," Honadel said. "But I still believe we intend to introduce a bill and lift our moratorium so we can allow the debate to happen."

Lifting the moratorium isn't a sign that the state will start building reactors overnight, Honadel said.

"It simply opens the door to the nuclear debate," he said.

A few notes: There is no actual moratorium on nuclear power in Wisconsin. The law, enacted in 1984 -- five years after Three Mile Island -- simply says that before a new reactor can be built it must make economic sense and there must be a federal repository to dispose of the nuclear waste the reactors produce.

Almost 60 years after nuclear plants began operating, there is still no safe, permanent way to dispose of the high-level radioactive waste, so deadly it must be kept out of the environment for hundreds of thousands of years. So there is a de facto moratorium; the industry can't meet the standard set by the law. The nuclear industry and the GOP have a simple solution: Repeal the law.

That doesn't seem quite as attractive today as it did a week ago, before the American public got a refresher course on how nuclear reactors work.

As you're watching those explanations on TV, or looking at the diagrams in the newspaper, whcih explain how "spent fuel" (radioactive waste, actually) is being stored at the reactors in water, resembling swimming pools, that the same kind of material is sitting in pools at Point Beach and Kewaunee, on Lake Michigan.

We don't have earthquakes or tsunamis in Wisconsin (we have tornadoes, of course), but you don't need a natural disaster to have a nuclear disaster. There was no earthquake or tsunami at Three Mile Island or at Chernobyl. There was human error by people ltrying to deal with extremely complex technology over an extended period of time.

Point Beach in particular does not have a good safety record, as noted in a previous post, in which I may have been guilty of treating the subject too lightly in an effort to make a point.

Nuclear reactors are dirty, dangerous and expensive. Wisconsin has a surplus of energy and no need for more baseload power in the foreseeable future.

Honadel suggests we need to repeal the state law so that we can "allow the debate" over nuclear power to happen. The GOP has been trying to repeal the law for the last 10 years. The argument is that all energy sources should be on the table as Wisconsin considers energy policy.

But there is no reason we can't have the nuclear debate now. The reason it is not on the table with other sources is that no other type of energy produces deadly waste that must be stored for half a billion years, and for which there is no solution or plan for disposal. Why not solve that problem first? Then we can talk about whether to build more reactors.

Fifteen environmental and other public interest groups asked the legislature in January to focus on renewable energy and leave the current state law on nukes as it is. They will be a vocal part of the debate Honadel says he wants, and after this week it's likely that coalition will grow.

Published

March 16, 2011 - 1:53pm

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