Review Begins To Possibly Extend Operation Of Wisconsin Nuclear Plant To 2050

Dec 29, 2020

A federal agency announced it has started to review an application to keep Wisconsin's only nuclear power plant open until about 2050. That's roughly two decades longer than currently authorized. 

The owner, Florida-based Next Era, says the two generators at the Point Beach Nuclear Plant along Lake Michigan, north of Manitowoc, are reliable sources of emissions-free energy. Milwaukee-based WE Energies used to own the large plant, and still buys power from it.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) says it looked at Next Era's application for the presence of any sensitive information, and has now made the document available for public inspection. Eventually, NRC is expected to begin safety and environmental reviews of the proposal.

NRC spokesperson Viktoria Mytlang says the safety review would include a look at how well the currently 50-year-old plant is aging, including inside the reactor vessels where nuclear fission produces a lot of heat. 

"There must be a program that ensures that component will continue to perform its function as protecting the safety of the public and of the plant,” she says.

Mytlang says early on, members of the public will get a chance to help shape the scope of the analysis of the nuclear plant's impact on the environment. 

"There are definitely cases where those areas that are brought to the attention of the NRC by members of the public are considered,” she says.

Mytlang says people will also have a chance to comment on the NRC's draft environmental impact statement and later could ask for a formal hearing on Next Era's application.

Hannah Mortensen, of Physicians for Social Responsibility Wisconsin, says one of the concerns her group will press is whether the nuclear reactors can last.

"Typically, nuclear reactors were only designed to operate for 40 years, and these licenses — the extension would put them to 80 years,” she says.

The discussion over whether to let Point Beach reach 80 years old is expected to last all of 2021 and into 2022.