The lower-house of Wisconsin’s state legislature passed a bill Tuesday lifting a 33 year-old restriction on the construction of new nuclear power plants in an attempt to comply with federal regulations phasing out coal plants.
Lawmakers who voted for the bill claim the state needs as much flexibility as possible to reduce coal use in order to comply with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandates to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The bill’s Democratic opponents, on the other hand, say natural gas power plants are a better way to comply with EPA mandates than nuclear power.
The bill “doesn’t say we’re going to go to nuclear energy, it doesn’t say we’re going to build a plant,” Republican Representative Kevin Peterson, the bill’s author, said when introducing it.
EPA regulations are expected to cost the state $920 million and reduce the disposable income of residents by $2,000 million through rising energy costs by 2030, according to a study by The Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University and the MacIver Institute, a free-market think-tank.
Wisconsin gets roughly 59 percent of its electricity from coal and almost 15 percent from nuclear while the solar and wind power systems that Wisconsin Democrats support expanding only produce 3.8 percent of the state’s electricity, according to the Energy Information Administration.
The ban on new nuclear reactors was enacted in 1983 and effectively prevents new construction until a federal facility is built that’s capable of handling spent nuclear fuel. Funding for such a facility in Nevada has been blocked for years by former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and President Barack Obama.
Environmental groups strongly oppose lifting the ban because they only support new solar and wind power.The Sierra Club, in particular, opposes all new nuclear reactors because they lead to “energy over-use and unnecessary economic growth.”
Energy experts say the ban on nuclear power may have been worse to the state’s environment than opponents are willing to admit.
“The irony of the current policy is that in its effect, for approximately 30 years, the state of Wisconsin has provided an incentive for the emission of airborne pollutants from fossil fuels, instead of the generation of small quantities of carefully tracked and well-contained used nuclear fuel,” Doctor Paul Wilson, a professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told Wisconsin National Public Radio affiliate.
Nuclear reactors do not emit carbon dioxide and produce less radiation than coal power plants. The Department of Energy has repeatedly supported nuclear power to fight global warming. However, opposition by the Obama administration means that of the 59 new nuclear reactors under construction worldwide, only 4 of them are being built in the U.S. That’s just enough to compensate for retiring older reactors.
Wisconsin is currently home to one operational nuclear power plant, the 1,026 megawatt Point Beach reactors.
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