A state moratorium on nuclear development is doing nothing to cool debate in Madison over the energy alternative.
Despite projections of growing energy needs and Wisconsin’s struggles to meet its renewable energy goals, nuclear power opponents remain as steadfast as supporters. Both stated their cases Tuesday in forums at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the state Capitol.
Kara Rumsey, spokeswoman for Madison-based public interest group Wisprig, and Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research in Takoma Park, Md., gave lawmakers a briefing on the costs of developing nuclear power.
“Since 2005, construction costs for nuclear reactors more than tripled,” Rumsey said. “The price to build a 1,000-megawatt plant is about $7.5 billion, and nuclear companies are expecting ratepayers to foot that bill.”
Mitchell Singer, spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute in Washington, D.C., confirmed the costs range from $5 billion to $8 billion. But, he said, there are few cleaner options that would create as much power.
Singer said nuclear plants cannot be ignored. They do not produce greenhouse gases, and national energy projections forecast a 21 percent growth in energy need by 2030, he said.
“The country needs a contribution from all energy sources,” he said. “But the only way we’ll be able to meet the needs is to invest in nuclear.”
Other states are investing. Singer said 17 energy companies are waiting for licenses to build nuclear reactors, and a list from the Nuclear Energy Institute shows 28 plant projects (Microsoft Excel) are either proposed or under consideration throughout the country.
If Wisconsin does not change its attitude, Singer said, it will miss out on energy and economic development opportunities.
“Companies just won’t build there,” he said. “That’s it.”
Wind farm developers are sounding the same alarm as lawmakers consider a bill that would set statewide guidelines for placement of wind turbines.
Considering the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin last year rejected Wisconsin Power & Light Co.’s application to build a major coal plant expansion in Cassville, something will have to give, said state Rep. Phil Montgomery, R-Green Bay.
“It becomes a culmination of all these things,” Montgomery said. “If you’re not going to allow coal or build natural gas and you’re going to fight wind, what is there? Well, you have that slap-your-forehead moment and realize it’s nuclear.”
Montgomery last year authored a bill, which failed in the state Senate, to set the stage for more nuclear development in Wisconsin. Wisconsin law does not prohibit consideration of new nuclear plants, but the law states such projects can only be built if the developer or utility can prove it’s the most cost-efficient option.
State Rep. James Soletski, D-Green Bay, and chairman of the Assembly Committee on Energy and Utilities, said any changes to the state’s nuclear laws likely will be part of a larger bill dealing with the recommendations made by the Governor’s Task Force on Global Warming.
But Makhijani said the state is better off pursuing other energy alternatives.
“There is a technological revolution going on, and public debate is still mired in the 20th century,” he said.
“It’s not sensible to say we need baseload power and look to nuclear. We’re rushing into an idea without adequate knowledge.”