MESSAGE FROM THE CHAIR
Wisconsin looks for ways to meet its growing demand for cleaner energy,
the state can no longer afford to rule out the construction of nuclear
power plants. The 23-year-old moratorium on new nuclear plants needs
to be lifted.
Nuclear power plants in the state of Wisconsin (Kewaunee and Point Beach)
already supply about 16 percent of Wisconsin’s electricity. Wisconsin
imports more than 15 percent of its electricity from neighboring Minnesota,
Iowa and Illinois—and a majority of that comes from the nuclear
power plants reliably producing baseload electricity in those states.
These plants were built in the 1970s and, following that time, the Wisconsin
Legislature enacted the moratorium on nuclear plant construction. The
law requires that the economic viability of nuclear power plants be
considered and that a permanent waste disposal site be in operation
before new plants can be constructed in Wisconsin.
In fall 2006, the Legislature empowered a special legislative committee
to review this policy; it held a series of public meetings with testimony
by many citizens and a wide range of stakeholders. After these meetings
and deliberations, the committee overwhelmingly recommended that the
moratorium be repealed. I was a member of that committee, and two key
points led to this recommendation:
• The economics of electricity production is already considered
by the Public Service Commission for any new power plant application
and thus this law is redundant.
• Spent fuel storage at nuclear power plants is demonstrated to
be safe and reliable and the disposal of high-level waste at Yucca Mountain
is doable and licensing is proceeding.
Those who believe nuclear power is not economic should consider the
facts. The total production costs at U.S. nuclear plants are lower than
any other form of baseload electricit. Production costs at U.S. nuclear
plants averaged less than 1.7 cents per kilowatt-hour (kwh), lower than
coal at about 2 cents per kwh, and far lower than natural gas plants.
The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has begun to rebuild the Watts
Bar Plant. This unit was left unfinished in the 1980s due to a lack
of electricity demand at that time. The NRG South Texas project, TVA,
Dominion, and Duke Energy have officially requested approval from the
Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for a combined construction-operation
license for five reactors and the NRC is preparing for at least two
dozen more reactor orders. These new plants designs are separately certified
by the NRC. They have passive safety features and will hopefully allow
for lower construction costs than current plants.
Clearly, new plants—once completed—will cost more than operating
plants, but all economic estimates indicate that nuclear will be cost-competitive
with baseload coal plants. Nuclear plants will have a clear economic
advantage if carbon-emissions requirements are enacted.
Finally, spent fuel—and the high-level radioactive waste it contains
(tons per plant per year)—is solid, concentrated and contained.
It is currently safely and reliably stored at plant sites and will be
eventually disposed of in a geologic repository. This can be compared
to the thousands of tons of sulfur-oxide and nitrous-oxides, the millions
of tons of carbon-dioxide, and the tons of vaporized heavy metals that
are annually released into the atmosphere and go up the stack from coal-burning
plants, or the millions of tons of fly-ash that must be buried.
Conservation and energy efficiency are very important to the state,
but they are not a sufficient solution. Renewable energy technologies
such as solar thermal, solar photovoltaic and wind turbines are also
very important, but they cannot be counted on as baseload electricity.
Nuclear power plants need to be allowed to be part of the mix of energy
technologies that Wisconsin can choose from to assure that it can allow
growth in the future with cleaner energy.
L. Corradini, Chair
147 Engineering Research Building
1500 Engineering Dr.
Madison, WI 53706-1687