Wisconsin bill aims to overturn nuclear construction ban

09 October 2015

Lawmakers in Wisconsin have introduced legislation that would end the US state's 32-year-old effective ban on the construction of new nuclear plants. Bills introduced to both of the state's legislative houses seek to change the approval process for new nuclear power plants by repealing current legislation and specifically including nuclear in a list of generating options.

Point Beach: Wisconsin's only operating nuclear plant (Image: US Nuclear Regulatory Commission)

Bill 288 was introduced to the Wisconsin Senate on 6 October by sponsors led by Senator Frank Lasee. A similar bill, number 384, was submitted to the state's Assembly on 8 October by Representative Kevin Petersen. Both have had their first reading and been referred to the relevant committees: the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy and the Assembly Committee on Energy and Utilities.

Under current Wisconsin law, construction of any new power plant requires a certificate from the state's Public Service Commission (PSC). In addition to the requirements that must be satisfied for any new power plant, for proposed nuclear plants the existing legislation prohibits the PSC from issuing a certificate unless two further conditions are satisfied: firstly, there must be available a federally licensed facility with sufficient capacity to receive the used fuel from all nuclear power plants in the state; and secondly, that construction of the power plant is economically advantageous to ratepayers based on specified factors. As no federally licensed facility for receiving used fuel is operational anywhere within the USA, the first requirement effectively bans the PSC from approving any nuclear construction project. The new legislation would eliminate the two extra conditions imposed on proposed nuclear power plants.

Current Wisconsin law also requires state agencies and local governments to design new and replacement energy projects, to the greatest extent cost-effective and feasible, in accordance with a pre-ordained list of priorities. The new legislation would specifically include nuclear capacity in that list, introducing "advanced nuclear energy using a reactor design or amended reactor design approved after December 31, 2010, by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission" as an option that must be considered after "combustible renewable energy resources" but before "non-renewable combustible energy resources".

Wisconsin has two operating 591 MWe pressurized water reactors at NextEra Energy's Point Beach plant. Unit 1 has been in operation since 1970, and unit 2 since 1972. Both units underwent an extended power uprate in 2011 and are currently licensed to operate until 2030 and 2033. According to data from the US Nuclear Energy Institute, the Point Beach units generate nearly 18% of the state's electricity. The Kewaunee nuclear power plant was shut down in 2013 by owner Dominion after it failed to find a buyer for the plant and is now being decommissioned.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News