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Earlier this week, the Wisconsin Assembly approved lifting a moratorium on building new nuclear reactors in the state. The measure now heads to the Senate.

Under current law, the state cannot approve a new nuclear power plant unless there is a federally licensed repository for high-level nuclear waste and the plant wouldn’t burden ratepayers. The nuclear industry can’t meet these common-sense conditions that have protected Wisconsin citizens for 33 years, so they want to repeal the law.

If Wisconsin’s moratorium on new nuclear power plants is repealed, the U.S. Department of Energy will have all the more reason to reconsider the granite bedrock of Wisconsin’s Wolf River Batholith as a permanent nuclear waste repository. The Department of Energy is desperate to find a host for a permanent geologic repository for nuclear waste because of the failed attempt to site such a repository on the lands of the Western Shoshone Indians in Nevada.

In December 2015, the Department of Energy launched a so-called “consent-based process” to site an underground repository for high-level nuclear waste from commercial reactors.

The legislative sponsors of the repeal seem to be unaware that the moratorium was enacted to protect Wisconsin citizens from becoming the host to a permanent geologic nuclear waste repository. In the 1980s, the Department of Energy ranked Wisconsin’s Wolf River Batholith as one of the top three options for a high-level nuclear waste repository. The proposed facility would be located somewhere in a 1,000-square-mile watershed that includes Langlade, Shawano, Waupaca, Menominee, Portage, Marathon and Oconto counties.

The proposed site also includes the reservation land of three tribes — the Stockbridge-Munsee, Menominee, Ho-Chunk, and the ceded treaty lands where 11 bands of the Lake Superior Chippewa retain extensive hunting, fishing and gathering rights.

Wisconsin citizens and Indian tribes were overwhelmingly opposed to becoming nuclear guinea pigs for the Department of Energy. In a 1983 statewide referendum, 89 percent voted against a nuclear waste disposal site in Wisconsin. After massive public opposition at public hearings in the potentially affected communities the Department of Energy said it would indefinitely postpone the search for a second nuclear waste site.

State Rep. Kevin Peterson, R-Fond du Lac, says his bill “simply reopens the door to technology that has advanced well beyond what it was when our state closed that door 30-plus years ago.” However, the two most recent nuclear reactors being built in Georgia and South Carolina are years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget. Both plants are using the Toshiba-Westinghouse AP 1000 reactor, which is the “advanced nuclear energy” promoted in Peterson’s repeal legislation.

Has Peterson, who represents Waupaca County, consulted his constituents about becoming a host for a nuclear waste repository? Because that is a much more likely outcome for Wisconsin than ever seeing a new nuclear reactor being built and becoming operational.

Regardless of what the nuclear industry and its proponents say, there is no known way to safely dispose of this waste, which remains dangerously radioactive for thousands of years. The only existing geologic repository for nuclear waste in this country is the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, N.M. This site was considered the model of safe nuclear waste storage. But in 2014, plutonium and other radioactive elements were accidentally released into the atmosphere from the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant site, exposing 22 workers to small amounts of radiation. The plant has been closed since the accident.

There is no good reason to expose Wisconsin communities and Indian tribes to the risks of radioactive contamination when there are nuclear-free and carbon-free renewable energy technologies that are truly cleaner, safer, faster and cheaper.

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Al Gedicks is executive secretary of the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council.


Digital news editor

Digital news editor

(6) comments


The risks and costs are unnecessary. Energy consumption is declining, and if/when we need more capacity, there are safer and less expensive options available. Energy efficiency is currently the states #1 energy priority by statute but, with our Public Disservice Commission, not by practice. Contact your senator and tell them to vote not and to ensure the focus on efficiency and conservation first, and to work on changing laws that block your ability to participate in the solar revolution.


The cost of nuclear power is infinite, since the toxic waste must be safeguarded for longer than all of recorded human history.
There is no such thing as safe nuclear power.


You people realize technology has advanced where with the new reactors much of the waste can be recycled? Just because this authors picture is from the 70's doesn't mean the technology still is. Do you realize France gets 80 percent of its power from nuclear reactors? Do you realize there are reactor designs that are designed to service 20,000 homes, are completely buried, and produce a 5 gallon bucket of waste per year? Instead of just writing off nuclear because you watched the China syndrome 100 times, do some research.


Not all of us are OK with "much of the waste can be recycled". A 5 gallon bucket of nuclear waste...not just any old still too much.


Nuclear power depends totally on plant and dump sites with little influence and on our Federal Government to insure as no private insurance company will insure nuclear power plants without HUGE government subsidies, not that there is much left that isn't already subsidized.


Thank you Al Gedicks for giving us a very clear explanation and understanding of what will probably happen if the moratorium on building nuclear plants in Wisconsin is lifted. To think that the assembly is willing to sell Wisconsin to the highest bidder with no regard to consequences is unconscionable.

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