Wisconsin Senate votes to lift nuclear energy ban

The bill now goes to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker who is expected to sign it.

welcome wisconsinLegislation that will end Wisconsin’s decades long ban on building new nuclear power plants is headed for signature by Governor Scott Walker following a 23-9 vote this week. Several Democrats joined Republicans in both the House and Senate in passing the new legislation this week.

The bill will end a moratorium enacted over 30 years ago that prohibits building new nuclear reactors unless there is a federal site to store spent nuclear fuel.

The original moratorium was passed with support from anti-nuclear green groups who used the lack of a geologic repository as a tactic to bottle up new construction of nuclear reactors.

The legislation, Assembly Bill 384, makes changes to current law that provides that, in meeting energy demands, the policy of the state is to address the following priorities, and in the following order:

  1. energy conservation and efficiency;
  2. noncombustible renewable energy resources;
  3. combustible renewable energy
  4. resources; and
  5. nonrenewable combustible energy resources.

The new law requires state agencies and local governments to pursue new and replacement energy projects in line with these priorities.

In addition, the Wisconsin Department of Administration must implement the priorities in designing its energy programs and awarding grants or loans for energy projects, and, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) must implement these priorities in making all energy-related decisions and orders.

The bill creates a new option that must be considered after combustible renewable energy resources, but before nonrenewable combustible energy resources. The new option that must be considered is advanced nuclear energy using a reactor design or amended reactor design approved after December 31, 2010, by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The legislation was first introduced in the Wisconsin House by Rep. Kevin Peterson (R-Waupaca). It should be noted that he has direct experience with nuclear energy technologies. In his official bio he writes,

“Having joined the United States Navy in 1984, he remained on active duty until 1994. Entering as an enlisted Nuclear Reactor Operator, he was commissioned an Officer in 1989. Returning to Naval Nuclear Power School, he became qualified as a Nuclear Engineering Watch Officer.”

Rep.Peterson said he introduced the legislation because the reason for the ban, the lack of a federal used fuel repository, is no longer relevant now that dry storage is in wide use at nuclear plant sites. The bill (Assembly Bill 384) was approved by the state Assembly on a voice vote in January. Republican state Sens. Frank Lasee and Van Wanggaard introduced companion legislation (Senate Bill 288) in Wisconsin’s upper chamber.

Nuclear Trade Group Praises Wisconsin Legislation

The Nuclear Energy Institute praised the legislative action in Wisconsin.

“The nuclear energy industry welcomes this common sense vote to lift the moratorium on new nuclear energy in Wisconsin. This decision appropriately gives the state the option to consider nuclear energy along with all other electricity sources in the planning of its energy future,” said Alex Flint, senior vice president of governmental affairs at the Nuclear Energy Institute.

NEI points out that in addition to dropping the ban on nuclear plant construction, the bill incorporates advanced nuclear energy options into state energy priorities, behind energy efficiency and renewable energy sources but ahead of new coal and natural gas facilities.

According to NEI, the legislation brought together a number of unions groups and business associations in support of the bill. These included the

  • International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Construction Electrician Local Unions,
  • the International Union of Operating Engineers,
  • the Mechanical Contractors Association of Wisconsin, and
  • Steamfitters Local 601 among the former and;
  • Wisconsin Independent Businesses and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce among the latter.
  • NEI also signaled its support for the bill as did a number of academics, former antinuclear activists and student activists.

Future of Nuclear Energy in Wisconsin

Wisconsin has two nuclear reactors, Point Beach 1 and 2, with 1,198 MW of generating capacity between them. Nuclear energy is the second largest generator of electricity in Wisconsin at 15% with coal-fired generation dominating at 62%. Nuclear energy also contributes 71% of the state’s carbon dioxide-free electricity.

In 2012 Dominion closed the Kewaunee nuclear power plant due to the record low price for natural gas. Although the plant had renewed license for more than 20 years of future operation, the utility determined it could not operate the power plant at a profit.

While there are no license applications pending in Wisconsin for new nuclear power plants, future opportunities with advanced reactors, including small modular reactors may emerge as a result of the more hospitable policy environment there.

Paul P.H. Wilson, Ph.D. a professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, wrote an OP ED in support of the legislation for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last December. In it he made the case “It’s time to bring nuclear energy back to Wisconsin.”

It is a great read and contains a useful cascade of talking points for anyone seeking to make the pro-nuclear argument in their home state. See also Wilson’s blog post at the ANS Nuclear Cafe on the current legislative action in Wisconsin.

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