Rep. Mark Honadel (R-South Milwaukee), chair of the Assembly Committee on Energy and Utilities, wants to repeal Wisconsin's nuclear power plant law, the so-called nuclear moratorium. Efforts to repeal the law may take place later this year.
Since 1983, Wisconsin consumers have been protected from the high costs and dangerous risks of nuclear power. The nuclear power plant law, Wisconsin Statute section 196.493, also known as the nuclear moratorium, requires that before any new nuclear power plant is built in Wisconsin, several criteria must be met:
• "A federally-licensed facility . . . with adequate capacity to dispose of high-level nuclear waste from all nuclear power plants operating in this state will be available, as necessary, for disposal of the waste;" and
• "the proposed nuclear plant, in comparison with feasible alternatives, is economically advantageous to ratepayers" in terms of fuel supply, costs for construction, operation, decommissioning, nuclear waste disposal and any other economic factor.
This law protects Wisconsin consumers from nuclear's high cost and the radioactive waste it produces, nuclear power's two worst faults that make it a terrible choice for meeting our electricity needs.
First the issue of high costs.
Recent proposals for new nuclear plants are extremely expensive, costing at least $10 billion.
With costs in the neighborhood of $10,000 per kilowatt, nuclear is much more expensive than other technologies: Electricity from a new coal plant costs less than $3,500 per kilowatt, wind electricity costs less than $2,500 per kilowatt and electricity from a natural gas combined cycle plant costs less than $1,500 per kilowatt. Energy efficiency is the least expensive way to make electricity available for other purposes, coming in at less than $900 per kilowatt saved.
Wisconsin ratepayers should not have to pay higher rates for nuclear when energy efficiency and other technologies are available at less than half the price. A new nuclear plant would cause electricity rates to skyrocket, making Wisconsin uncompetitive with states with lower electricity rates.
Besides, Wisconsin has excess base load capacity and doesn't need a new base load power plant. Therefore, repealing the nuclear moratorium will not lead to any new power plants or create any jobs. Though there are companies in Wisconsin that service the nuclear industry, repealing the moratorium won't provide them with any direct benefit.
Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina are already forcing their ratepayers to pay for just thinking about new nuclear power plants, even though no plants are under construction, their owners don't have federal construction licenses and any plants that actually get built won't produce electricity for many years, if ever.
The nuclear industry admits that new nuclear plants won't be built without subsidies from federal taxpayers. Congress has authorized $18 billion in loan guarantees for new nuclear plants, and pending legislative proposals are calling for $36 billion more. These loan guarantees put taxpayers on the hook for billions should the plants never be completed or have cost overruns, as have most if not all nuclear plants built in the United States.
The risks of nuclear power have been tragically dramatized by the disaster unfolding at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant in Japan. Explosions and possible earthquake/tsunami damage has spread radioactivity from the reactors and the used fuel stored nearby, contaminating land near the plant and forcing an evacuation of thousands of people from their homes, perhaps permanently. Radioactive water is leaking from the plant and being drained into the ocean, and radiation has been scattered throughout Japan and the world. These problems will likely persist for years at untold costs to the health of the Japanese people and their economy.
In the U.S., nuclear waste is piling up at reactors in Wisconsin and elsewhere, exposing those living near the plant to the hazards and costs of potential releases of radioactive material. The federal government hasn't opened a dump for nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, Nev., and probably never will: Work on this project has come to a halt as the feds consider new options for dealing with nuclear waste. The U.S. will likely have no safe way to dispose of nuclear waste for decades, if ever, leaving radioactive waste on the shores of Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River.
As the U.S. continues producing more nuclear waste, it may look again at the Wolf River batholith, an area in central and northeastern Wisconsin, which was studied by the federal government in the 1980s as a possible site for a nuclear waste dump.
Repealing the nuclear moratorium will do nothing for Wisconsin consumers other than expose them to the high costs and risks of new nuclear power plants and more radioactive waste.
Charlie Higley is executive director of the Citizens Utility Board of Wisconsin.