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Monday, December 21, 2009

Don't weaken state's nuke law

From a commentary by Jennifer Nordstrom, coordinator of the Carbon-Free, Nuclear-Free campaign for the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research and a member of Carbon-Free, Nuclear-Free Wisconsin, in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Weakening Wisconsin laws regulating new nuclear reactors should not be part of a climate change bill. The Clean Energy Jobs Act, unveiled in the state Legislature recently, is a significant step toward addressing global warming while strengthening our state economy. Although much of the bill is a positive step to addressing global warming, it weakens Wisconsin's current law on building new nuclear reactors.

Wisconsin's current law is common sense and protects citizens and the environment from radioactive nuclear waste, which poses considerable risks for tens thousands of years and contains plutonium, which can be used to make nuclear weapons if separated. Available renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies are faster, cheaper, safer and cleaner strategies for reducing greenhouse emissions than nuclear power.

Nuclear energy is also expensive and financially risky. Nuclear projects are large, take a long time to plan and build (eight years at a minimum and often more) and require a great deal of capital. This means a lot of money gets locked up in a single project - sometimes more than the companies seeking to build the reactors are worth. Wall Street has refused to provide capital for new nuclear reactors.

The nuclear industry wants either taxpayers or ratepayers to subsidize these projects, via taxpayer loan guarantees and/or ratepayer interest-free advance cash. Even before the current financial crisis, the CEO of General Electric said if he were a utility CEO, he would not build nuclear but natural gas or wind power plants because "I don't have to bet my company on any of this (wind or gas) stuff."

Wisconsin's law was partially designed to protect its citizens from the financial risk and expense of new reactors. It was also put it in place because of the serious, unsolved problem of nuclear waste.

Every reactor produces radioactive nuclear waste, which contains elements that last for hundreds of generations. No country in the world (including France and the United States) has a repository for storing this radioactive waste. The problems with Yucca Mountain, the proposed site in the United States, are technical as well as political; the Obama administration has rightly declared it unsuitable. Wisconsin residents should remember that in the last round of looking for a national nuclear waste dump, Wisconsin was high on the list.

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