Speaking truth to (nuclear) power | WisCommunity

Speaking truth to (nuclear) power

Let's start by accentuating the positive, this quote from a Capital Times story on the pros and cons of nuclear power:

Tia Nelson, co-chair of Gov. Jim Doyle’s Task Force on Global Warming, says that while the costs of nuclear power grow and the price tag for renewable sources shrinks, it is not fiscally smart for the state to invest in nuclear energy.

“We know that nuclear power is more expensive and more dangerous than any other alternative before us today,” says Nelson, daughter of Gaylord Nelson, the late U.S. senator who founded Earth Day.

As the state's Clean Energy Jobs Act starts working its way through the legislature, coverage of the nuclear power issue -- one of the more contentious piece of the huge bill -- is increasing. That's a positive;; public education and debate is good. But there's a big helping of misinformation and spin being served up as part of the menu.

The headline in this Capital Times article assures us that the bill is not a "green light" for nuclear power.

That's true, to a degree. If the bill passes, construction won't start next week or next year. But there is no question that passage of the bill as it stands, with changes in the state law regulating nuclear power, will make it much easier to build a new plant here.

Current law says that before any new reactors can be approved, a federal waste facility must be ready to handle the high-level radioactive waste from the plants. The proposed bill would eliminate that requirement.

That is a major change, and removes the only objective measure of whether there is a safe, long-term waste disposal plan. The change would simply let the Public Service Commission approve a utility's plans for the waste, which most likely would be to store it next to the reactor. That's what is already happening at Point Beach and Kewaunee, the state's two operating commercial reactors. And that's not a long-term solution.

By the way, the high level radioactive waste produced by these reactors is dangerous to humans and the environment for hundreds of thousands of years. (A mere 15,000 years ago Wisconsin was covered by glaciers.) There is no safe, permanent was to dispose of it.

The Cap Times story seems designed to assure us that there won't be any more nukes in the state whether the bill passes the way it is or not.

“I think it’s fair to say anyone who wants nuclear energy will be very disappointed with this bill,” says Scott Manley of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s largest business lobby...

One of the state’s biggest nuclear power proponents admits the Doyle-backed bill does little to advance the cause. One reason, says Michael Corradini, UW-Madison professor of nuclear engineering and nuclear physics, is that there are three new coal-fired electric-generating facilities under construction: two near Milwaukee and another near Wausau.

“With those new coal plants coming online now, I don’t see a need for any more substantial amounts of baseload electricity for at least 10 years,” he says.

Roy Thilly, president of Wisconsin Public Power Inc., says the bill was purposely neutral on the issue of nuclear power. “It’s not anti-nuclear or pro-nuclear,” says Thilly, who co-chaired the task force. “It’s a carefully constructed package that needs to appeal to both ends of the political spectrum.”

Well, if that's the case, and the utilities and nuclear backers really don't think this bill does anything to advance nuclear power, why don't we just agree to take that language out and leave things the way they are? Why do you suppose they pushed so hard to include that language, and are insisting it stay in the bill?

A couple of other points to clear up in the Cap Times story:

But the new Wisconsin bill still mandates that any nuclear facility here have a waste disposal plan, in addition to requiring that the plant be economically better than the alternatives.

That waste disposal plan is likely to be on-site storage at the reactors, since there is no good alternative. This is not a minor problem. We've been producing this toxic waste for 50+ years and the industry and government have been unable to solve the problem.

Wisconsin has two nuclear power facilities that have operated quietly and safely since the 1970s, providing about 20 percent of the state’s electricity.

It is true that there have been no major accidents at the plants. But safety is an ever-present issue. Only five "red findings" — the highest safety failure warnings in the industry — have ever been issued by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Three of the five went to Point Beach.

The story also assures readers that "nuclear power does not create global warming carbon emissions." Nuclear power is not carbon-free electricity. At each stage of the nuclear fuel cycle, from uranium mining, milling, enrichment to construction, decommissioning and waste storage, nuclear power uses fossil fuels and contributes greenhouse gas emissions that accelerate global climate change. Compared to renewable energy, nuclear power releases four to five times the CO2 per unit of energy produced.

Available renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies are faster, cheaper, safer and cleaner strategies for reducing greenhouse emissions than nuclear power. That's why a coalition of organizations, including Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice, a statewide network of 170+ groups, are working to keep the existing law on nuclear power while supporting the rest of the Clean Energy Jobs Act. That's what has brought this issue to the forefront of the debate on the Clean Energy Jobs Act. It's unfortunate that the Cap Times didn't speak to anyone in that coalition to get the other side of the story.

But, thankfully, they did talk to Tia Nelson, who -- despite her commitment to trying to get the bill passed as written -- accurately assessed the nuclear power alternative.

Want to know more or get involved? Start here.


January 19, 2010 - 9:36am