Wisc. Governor Calls for More Nuclear Power

Published October 9, 2008

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle (D), whose past statements and actions indicated a lack of support for nuclear power plant construction, is now speaking out more favorably on the subject.

Making public appearances on behalf of Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), Doyle has begun calling for nuclear power to have a more prominent role in the nation’s energy mix.

In 2003 Doyle promised to veto any bill repealing the state’s moratorium on nuclear power plant construction. While speaking to reporters this August 6, however, Doyle said he supports a modification of the nuclear power plant moratorium, which was enacted in 1983. New nuclear power plants, Doyle said, should be considered to help meet future energy needs in Wisconsin.

Doyle spokesman Lee Sensenbrenner said Doyle was demonstrating his ability to take into account changing times and circumstances.

“It’s probably unfair to equate any potential comments on a specific bill five years ago with the position that Wisconsin should have the ability to consider what nuclear power might look like here, if new plants are being built in this country,” Sensenbrenner told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for an August 8 story.

Growing Momentum

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is reporting signs of increasing interest in nuclear power production not just in Wisconsin but across the nation. With energy prices rising and growing demand for emissions-free power generation, NRC expects by 2010 to receive a total of 23 new applications to build 34 nuclear power plants.

Popular support for nuclear power continues to build, with an August 7 Gallup poll showing the public is more likely to vote for a candidate for public office who supports new nuclear power production.

According to Gallup, 47 percent of Americans would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports increasing use of nuclear power, while 41 percent say they would be less likely. Other polls have shown popular support for nuclear power closer to 60 percent.

Already, 20 percent of America’s electricity comes from nuclear power plants. Given the number of applications before NRC and the bipartisan political push for investment in alternative and cleaner energy sources, new nuclear power plants could be up and running in the near future.

“We could see between four and eight new nuclear plants online in the 2015 to 2016 time frame,” said John Keeley, manager of media relations for the Nuclear Energy Institute. “Once [application] approvals are granted by the NRC, construction can take three or four years.”

Costs Are Decreasing

Large start-up costs are a factor in nuclear power development, said Max Schulz, a senior fellow with the Manhattan Institute. But those costs are largely recouped at the operational stage, where nuclear plants run “very cheaply,” he said. New technologies have led the nation’s 100-plus existing plants to achieve efficiency rating increases of 60 to 90 percent, he noted.

“The big question mark has always been the cost of regulation, delays, litigation, protests from environmental groups,” Schulz said. “But we’ve seen in the last decade a really pronounced shift in public opinion, and one reason [is] climate change.”

Fears Unfounded

Protests and outcries against nuclear power today are rooted in fallacies and unfounded fears, said Michael Lubell, director of public affairs for the American Physical Society and a physics professor at the City College of New York.

“There are people who get scared if you say the word ‘radiation,'” Lubell said. “But in terms of plant operations, the record is one of absolute safety. “There’s never been a radioactive accident in the United States.”

Lubell said the 1979 Three Mile Island incident in Pennsylvania could go down in the record books as one of the most spurious incidents of unnecessary environmental worry from that century. There were no deaths and no injuries, but the incident had the misfortune of occurring in the wake of the Jane Fonda movie The China Syndrome, he noted.

Cheryl K. Chumley ([email protected]) is a 2008-09 Phillips Foundation journalism fellow.