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Legislative Hearing Draws Many Who Favor Nuclear Power in Wisconsin

nrcgov, flickr
Point Beach Nuclear Plant, located near Two Rivers, WI.

There’s talk in Wisconsin of resurrecting nuclear power. Right now, there’s only one working plant here, the Point Beach facility along Lake Michigan. 

The state imposed a ban on new nuclear plants in 1983 after a few scares elsewhere.

On Wednesday, dozens of people packed into a hearing at the State Capitol to testify on a bill that would lift Wisconsin’s moratorium. Most who weighed in say they favor the change.

Republican Rep. Kevin Petersen points to the White House. He says he’s proposing that Wisconsin lift its ban on new nuclear power plants because of rules coming from the Obama administration.

“Recently the federal EPA issued global warming regulations on coal-fired power plants. Between 2012 and 2030, Wisconsin will have to reduce its carbon emissions by 34 percent. Modifying fossil fuel burning electric power plants will be extremely expensive.  Those costs will be passed on to Wisconsin families and businesses,” Petersen says.

Following Petersen’s testimony before the Assembly Energy Committee, a steady stream of people urged Wisconsin to lift its moratorium. They include Kelsey Amundson, a nuclear engineering student at UW-Madison. She insists nuclear power is cleaner for the environment than fossil fuels and says Wisconsin now generates over 70 percent of its electricity by burning coal and natural gas.

“A typical coal plant will emit 3.5 million tons of carbon dioxide per year in addition to other harmful gases and particulates. If we want to improve our air quality while meeting our electrical needs, we need nuclear power. It accounts for nearly two-thirds of carbon-free electricity in the United States and is the only carbon-free electricity source that we know for certain can be implemented here in Wisconsin,” Amundson says.

Another person who supports lifting the ban is Trevor Martin of Menasha. He belongs to a local pipe fitters union. Martin worked at the Point Beach plant and says new nuclear power plants would create hundreds of family-supporting jobs.

“I was employed at the plant during its largest construction project since it was built and at that time, there were over 500 construction workers and over 800 total between construction and support staff there. The economic effect of having a nuclear facility near a community is huge. It reaches all facets of area economies,” Martin says.

Martin attended Wednesday’s hearing along with several dozen union members. While nobody testified against the bill, the Sierra Club of Wisconsin has registered its opposition. Chapter Director Bill Davis says there are better options than nuclear.

“Why are we not doing everything we can to stimulate those sources of power, wind power or solar power or investing in upgrading the building stock in Wisconsin in terms of energy efficiency so we don’t have to use as much? Those three things will create more jobs. It makes way more sense to move in that direction instead of looking backwards in time and thinking we should build another nuclear plant,” Davis says.

In addition, Davis disputes the argument that nuclear power is clean.

“People are thinking it’s carbon-free, which is true but still it is nuclear power, which means you have to deal with spent fuel rods. Eventually you’re going to have to decommission the plant itself and you’re going to have to figure out what to do with the old shell of the reactor and the core and things like that, so in that sense no, it’s not clean,” Davis says.

The committee did not vote on the bill Wednesday. Current state law forbids the construction of nuclear power plants, unless they won’t burden rate payers and a federal storage facility exists for the nuclear waste.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.