Our Views: Wisconsin should lift long-time ban on nuclear plants

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Gazette editorial board
Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Now might seem an odd time for Wisconsin to lift its restrictions on new nuclear power plants, given that natural gas is plentiful and cheap.

But now is the perfect time to do so.

Fortunately, Republicans and Democrats on the Assembly Committee on Energy and Utilities united last month in a 13-0 vote to recommend lifting the ban. That bipartisanship is gratifying. Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, expects the full Assembly to vote on AB 384 this month.

Wisconsin enacted its ban soon after the 1979 meltdown at Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island plant. Granted, that disaster's cleanup cost $1 billion, but no workers or area residents were killed or even injured.

Clean Wisconsin opposes AB 384 and its companion, Senate Bill 288. The organization reasons that it makes no sense to support nuclear power when plants are expensive and take so long to build and natural gas is a clean, cheap alternative to dirty coal.

However, natural gas is bountiful because of controversial fracking, and the supply won't last forever.

Meanwhile, President Obama's administration is leading worldwide concerns about global warming. It's also pushing an EPA Clean Power Plan that demands fewer emissions and is driving up coal's costs. In contrast, Obama is showing no leadership on nuclear waste disposal. His administration and Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., teamed up to halt funding of the repository at Nevada's Yucca Mountain in 2011.

How will we heat our homes once natural gas supplies dwindle? Solar and wind are renewable energies but will never meet demands.

Sure, other energy technologies might emerge. But evolving technologies also could reduce prices of nuclear plants. Smaller, less expensive designs are being reviewed. Innovations might even make it economical to reuse nuclear waste to further generate power.

Wisconsin has three nuclear plants, but their production has dwindled to about 13 percent of the state's electrical power, the Racine Journal Times reports.

Both Republicans and Democrats have tried to lift Wisconsin's nuclear freeze, but three proposals since 2003 have failed. Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state's largest business lobby, supports the latest legislation because the state needs flexibility to comply with demands for fewer carbon emissions.

“This is something that has been on our legislative agenda for a long time,” WMC's Lucas Vebber told the Wisconsin State Journal. “The renewed interest in it now has to do with the Clean Power Plan coming from the federal level.”

In full disclosure, Gazette Publisher Sidney H. “Skip” Bliss is on the WMC Board of Directors.

Even if the legislation passes, Wisconsinites need not fear a nuclear plant rising in their backyards overnight. These plants are expensive and take years to approve and build. That's why the time is right to lift the restrictions so Wisconsin can consider nuclear as part of a balanced energy future.


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