An anti-nuclear group is seeking to block efforts to keep Wisconsin’s only operational nuclear power plant running through 2050.
Physicians for Social Responsibility filed a petition Tuesday asking federal regulators for a hearing on the application to add 20 years to the licenses for the Point Beach Nuclear Plant in Two Rivers.
The Madison-based nonprofit cites concerns about the age and structural integrity of the reactors, which began operation in 1970 and 1972, the public health risks of an accident and the heated water the plant dumps into Lake Michigan.
“These reactors are plagued with a long history of operational difficulties and embrittlement which make the risk of a catastrophic accident untenable for the safety of Wisconsin residents and the environment,” said Amy Schulz, a nurse and president of the Wisconsin chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility. “One simply needs to look at the financial, environmental and health costs paid by the people of Japan and Ukraine after the accidents at Fukushima and Chernobyl to recognize the folly of this relicensing proposal.”
The leak, which occurred in 2019 but was not reported until last summer, contaminated at least 130 tons of soil, and toxic chemicals have been detected in groundwater at thousands of times the state limits.
The group also contends renewable energy sources provide safer and more economical alternatives to the plant, which sells electricity under contract to We Energies at a rate nearly double the average wholesale price in the Midwest.
NextEra Energy last year filed an application asking the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to add 20 years to licenses for the two reactors at the 1,200-megawatt plant, which is Wisconsin’s single-largest source of electricity.
Last renewed in 2005, the current licenses are set to expire in 2030 and 2033.
Physicians for Social Responsibility filed the petition on behalf of 10 members who live within 50 miles of the plant, which they say poses a risk to their health and safety.
Arnold Gundersen, a nuclear engineer and former plant operator testifying on behalf of Physicians for Social Responsibility, said the Point Beach reactors “do not meet basic licensing requirements” and have been degraded by decades of radiation.
“Point Beach is the worst neutron embrittled reactor pressure vessel in the country, at risk of fracturing like glass in an emergency,” Gundersen said.
The petition also calls the Point Beach units “super predators” that kill millions of aquatic organisms as they suck more than a trillion gallons of water per day from Lake Michigan and return the heated water.
Hannah Mortensen, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility Wisconsin, said while blocking the application extension is a long shot, the group hopes to at least persuade regulators to require the installation of cooling towers, which she said would mitigate some of the damage.
“Lake Michigan already has enough problems with climate change,” Mortensen said.
Business and institutional customers who buy their gas from pipeline suppliers and marketers are being hit with huge bills for February, though it may be another month before the impact shows up on utility bills.
NextEra spokesperson Peter Robbins said the company would respond to the group’s concerns through the NRC’s application review process.
Robbins said NextEra has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the plant, which produced about nearly two thirds of the carbon-free electricity generated in Wisconsin last year, according to Energy Information Administration data.
“Extending the licenses would be good for the people of Wisconsin, the state’s economy and our environment,” Robbins said.
But other witnesses for Physicians for Social Responsibility question the value of the plant, which is under contract to provide electricity to We Energies. Under that agreement, the utility pays $55.82 per megawatt hour this year, about 63% higher than the average wholesale price for electricity in the region. By 2033, the cost rises to $122.45 per megawatt hour.
The anti-nuclear group argues it would be far cheaper for ratepayers to replace the plant with a combination of solar panels with battery storage, energy efficiency measures and advanced grid controls.
“Essentially it’s uneconomical to have Point Beach running into the future,” Mortensen said. “We actually have over 10 years to develop a plan. And the infrastructure is all there.”