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Nuclear power plant construction

A worker helps build a nuclear reactor in Waynesboro, Georgia.

The state Assembly wisely voted Tuesday to lift an unnecessary restriction on nuclear power production in Wisconsin.

The Senate should now pass Assembly Bill 384, which enjoys bipartisan support.

Building another nuclear reactor in Wisconsin would be expensive and difficult, given strict regulation to ensure safety. But that’s no reason to remove it as an option for the future. Technology could help bring down the price and diminish the danger of radioactive waste. In fact, researchers are studying ways to recycle used nuclear fuel to create low-carbon electricity.

Wisconsin gets about half its electricity from burning coal, which spews carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. The federal government is restricting carbon pollution, forcing utilities to find alternatives.

That’s why Wisconsin power companies support AB 384 — because it provides flexibility in meeting ambitious clean energy goals. Lots of business groups and unions favor the bill, too, because they want reliable energy and jobs. Some environmentalists are supportive because nuclear reactors don’t emit greenhouse gasses, which are warming the planet.

AB 384 would lift a 1983 moratorium on the construction of nuclear plants. The moratorium demands a federal storage facility for nuclear waste before Wisconsin can build more reactors. The federal government has stopped pushing for a nuclear waste repository in Nevada. So the moratorium is effectively a ban on modern facilities here.

Wisconsin has three aging nuclear plants, only one of which still produces energy near Two Rivers, about 45 miles southeast of Green Bay. The other plants in Kewaunee and near La Crosse in Genoa have closed because of market forces, including lower-priced natural gas. Like the Point Beach nuclear plant in Two Rivers, they continue to securely store spent fuel rods on site.

With improving technology to reduce and recycle nuclear waste, Wisconsin shouldn’t let the federal government’s inaction on a repository stop it from considering new ways to produce low-carbon energy.

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Nor should Wisconsin fear scare tactics by opponents of AB 384 who suggest the bill will open the door to a nuclear waste dump here. If the federal government can’t locate a repository in the barren Nevada desert, it doesn’t stand a chance of doing so in beautiful, lake-rich Wisconsin.

The 1983 moratorium, adopted in the wake of the Three Mile Island accident, forbids modern reactors from being built here if they burden ratepayers. That’s a subjective restriction that could be applied to any form of energy to stop progress.

Critics of nuclear power say Wisconsin should focus on solar and wind energy instead. But utilities are already doing that, and it’s only making a dent in carbon emissions. The two reactors at Point Beach produce more electricity than solar and wind projects combined.

Moreover, AB 384 would continue to prioritize conservation, efficiency and renewable energy ahead of nuclear power.

If an advanced nuclear reactor were ever built in Wisconsin, it almost certainly would go on the site of an existing reactor.

AB 384 doesn’t grant permission for anything. It merely allows Wisconsin to keep its energy options open as the world strives to reduce its reliance on dirty coal.

[Editor's note: This editorial has been updated to reflect a correction. The original misstated the location for the La Crosse Boiling Water Reactor. The defunct plant is located 25 miles south of La Crosse in Genoa.]

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