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Critics Of Proposed Point Beach Nuclear Plant License Extension Ask Feds For In-Depth Review

Point Beach Nuclear Plant

The Wisconsin chapter of Physicians For Social Responsibility (PSR) is asking the federal government for a much more extensive review of plans to extend the life of the state's last remaining commercial nuclear power plant.

Florida-based Next Era has applied to keep both units of the Point Beach plant going until the early 2050s, or 20 years beyond the end of their current operating license. We Energies and other utilities buy power from the plant north of Manitowoc.

Tuesday, the Atomic Safety Licensing Board, part of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, held a four-hour session on whether to conduct a full hearing that would include testimony from experts.

PSR contends there are four main issues needing a closer look. The group's attorney Terry Lodge said one of those issues is nuclear reactor safety for in a plant that is 50 years old and is being asked to run until it's 80.

"The reactor coolant pressure boundary hasn't been tested so as to ensure there's an extremely low probability of abnormal leakage, rapidly propagating failure and gross rupture," Lodge warned.

Next Era attorney Ann Leidich argued PSR's point was inadmissible. "It is challenging the current licensing basis of the facility, and not something for license renewal. Thus, the contention is outside the scope of this license renewal proceeding," she said.

Chuck Quirmbach
Physicians for Social Responsibility wants the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to look at whether the Point Beach Nuclear Power Plant could eventually be replaced by solar panels, such as these near the Milwaukee airport.

PSR's Lodge said another issue that needs more examination is whether Point Beach should shut down in a decade and be replaced by a large number of solar panels. "We believe it's utterly reasonable for a serious commercial technology that has really tough implications for aging, dinosaur baseload plants," he said.

But before retiring another baseload plant, one that basically is always on, Next Era's Leidich said finding the land for a huge number of solar panels is just one of her concerns. "Right now, the petitioner (PSR) is discussing the possibility of putting it in rights of way, in parking lots. But that's a hypothetical scenario. It doesn't mean it's a practical alternative that can be implemented in time to replace these units at a scale necessary for baseload production," she said.

Attorneys for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission also challenged the Wisconsin group's call for a formal hearing on the Point Beach extension. The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board said it would issue a recommendation within 45 days.

Chuck Quirmbach joined WUWM in August 2018. He focuses his longform stories on health, innovation, science, technology, transportation, utilities and business.
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