Opening the Door to Advanced Nuclear Energy


According to the United States Department of Energy, “The USA has 99 nuclear power reactors in 30 states, operated by 30 different power companies. Since 2001 these plants have achieved an average capacity factor of over 90%, accounting for 20% of total electricity generated.” Currently, Wisconsin’s only operational nuclear facility includes reactors 1 and 2 at Point Beach.

I have introduced Assembly Bill 384 “relating to: requirements for approval of construction of nuclear power plants and changes to the state’s energy priorities policy.” The bill repeals 1983 ACT 401 known as Wisconsin’s Nuclear Moratorium.  Under existing Wisconsin law, state regulators cannot grant permission for a new nuclear power plant unless a federal storage facility for the waste exists and the plant is economically advantageous to ratepayers.

Provisions of the federal Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 required the government construct a national repository for storing spent nuclear fuel. On March 3, 2010, the Department of Energy filed a motion with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to withdraw the license application for a high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

Yucca Mountain is no longer needed. Instead, facilities such as Kewaunee and Point Beach are employing dry cask storage.  Dry cask storage allows spent fuel that has already been cooled in the spent fuel pool for at least one year to be surrounded by inert gas inside a container called a cask.

On August 26, 2014 the Obama Administration’s NRC issued “The Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel Rule.” The rule adopts the NRC’s finding which supports the generic environmental impact statement concluding spent nuclear fuel can be safely managed in dry casks indefinitely when licensing nuclear reactors.

The next step for used fuel could very well be something other than putting it in dry cask storage. It isn’t “nuclear waste” unless we decide to waste it.  Generation IV reactors utilizing molten salt designs will be using what is currently considered nuclear waste as their fuel source.

Additionally, AB 384 incorporates advanced nuclear energy options into state energy policy using a reactor design, or amended reactor design approved after December 31, 2010, by the United States NRC. Advanced nuclear energy will be prioritized between combustible renewable energy resources and nonrenewable combustible energy resources.

The bill does not contemplate nuclear will displace any of the statutorily prioritized resources, such as energy efficiency and conservation, or renewable energy. If those sources can cost effectively and suitably supply Wisconsin’s energy needs, then no nuclear plant would need to be built.

At the same time, if analyses prove nuclear energy is overly cost prohibitive, and sufficient renewables aren’t available, the bill still allows utilities to build or refurbish gas or other fossil fuel power plants.

Wisconsin’s two main sources of “base” load electricity are coal and nuclear. “Base” load electricity is the electricity needed 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, 365 days per year to power homes and businesses. 

In other words, if the wind isn’t blowing on a hot summer day, a windmill will not provide electricity to your air conditioner. Nor will solar panels produce the needed energy to heat your house on a gray winter day.

Recently, the federal Environmental Protection Agency issued global warming regulations on coal-fired power plants. Between 2012 and 2030, Wisconsin will have to reduce its carbon emissions by approximately 41%.  According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the cut would be the sixth-highest in the country.

Modifying fossil fuel burning electric power plants will be extremely expensive, ranging from $3.4 billion to $13.4 billion, according to estimates from state utility regulators. Those costs will be passed on to Wisconsin families and businesses.

As electric rates increase, middle class jobs in Wisconsin will be jeopardized. In order to compete globally as well as domestically, Wisconsin businesses must have access to energy that is both affordable and reliable.

Advanced nuclear energy is a clean, safe, and affordable way to meet future energy demands in Wisconsin, the United States, and around the world. Lifting Wisconsin’s nuclear moratorium reopens the door to a technology that has advanced well beyond what it was when our state closed that door 30+ years ago.