Over the weekend, at a governors conference here in Washington, I greeted a friend whom I’d met 10 years earlier when she was a staffer to then-Wisconsin Assemblyman (now Wisconsin Public Service Commission Chairman) Phil Montgomery. My friend’s former boss was among the early advocates for repealing Wisconsin’s longstanding moratorium on new nuclear, and we high-fived last week’s bipartisan state Senate passage of the repeal bill. The bill now awaits Governor Scott Walker’s promised signature. Enactment will ensure that reliable, zero-emissions nuclear will be among a host of technologies Wisconsin’s utilities and policymakers can consider going forward to meet the state’s energy, environmental and economic needs.
Looking back, I recall a number of key players and events that slowly turned a polarizing issue – viewed by some as partisan, and a long shot in a purple state – into the successful reform of outdated policy. Here’s a brief timeline on the moratorium repeal effort.
2006 – 2007
NEI participated in a debate in Madison with anti-nuclear activists before a Special Legislative Committee on Nuclear Power, which was reviewing the nuclear ban. Introduction of repeal legislation, sponsored by Rep. Montgomery and others, soon followed and the Assembly Energy & Utility Committee held hearings in December 2007. Organized Labor, particularly the building trades, quickly emerged as reliable champions of nuclear energy (see IBEW and MBCTC statements below).
But Wisconsin’s divided government – a Republican-majority House and Democratic-led state Senate and governor – was in no hurry to move repeal legislation. A respected labor leader in the state observed, “Our key will be converting Democrats.” And making inroads with Democratic-leaning constituencies, such as environmental activists.
In July, a task force appointed by Governor Jim Doyle (D) issued its report, Wisconsin’s Strategy for Reducing Global Warming, which recommended modifying the state’s moratorium so that the nuclear option might be considered, among others, in the effort to meet emissions reduction goals.
That autumn, Dr. Patrick Moore, the co-founder of Greenpeace, addressed the Energy Hub conference at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and told the crowd that basic scientific literacy clearly indicated the need for nuclear energy in addressing climate change. Conference organizers later reported that attendees’ evaluations identified Dr. Moore’s nuclear presentation as the best in the day-long event.
The Wisconsin Legislature did the right thing by removing outdated restrictions on building nuclear power plants in Wisconsin.
I have been a lifelong environmentalist, citizen member of Gov. Jim Doyle's global warming task force, and former board chair of Clean Wisconsin. I had always opposed nuclear power because I considered it to be dangerous. However, I now know that my opposition was not supported by science but was ideologically-driven, parroting many of the organizations on which I depended for my information. I have learned to look instead to the best sources of science: the National Academies of Science, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and consensus science generally.
Questions arise: When might Wisconsin build new nuclear? Would new reactors be of the large scale presently under construction in Tennessee, South Carolina and Georgia, or one of the promising small reactor designs now under development? These questions are premature, as it’s not certain when load growth will require new generation. An NEI witness recently told legislators it’s hard to predict our energy future, but it’s wise to provide policymakers with options.
The moratorium repeal bill allows Wisconsinites interested in clean, safe, reliable baseload electricity and a diverse energy portfolio to consider a technology that does it all: nuclear.