Op-Ed

Bill Could Attract Radioactive Waste Dump

Assembly approves bill that could allow radioactive waste repository in the North Woods.

By - Jan 18th, 2016 02:05 pm
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The La Crosse Boiling Water Reactor is located on the right, a decommissioned nuclear power station. Photo by Royalbroil.

The La Crosse Boiling Water Reactor is located on the right, a decommissioned nuclear power station. Photo by Royalbroil.

The Wisconsin Assembly has passed a bill lifting a moratorium on new nuclear reactors and the the measure now goes to the state Senate. This would be a significant change in state law.

Under current law, the state cannot approve another 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 it wants to repeal the law.

If Wisconsin’s moratorium on building nuclear power plants is repealed, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) will have all the more reason to reconsider the granite bedrock of Wisconsin’s Wolf River Batholith as a permanent nuclear waste repository. The DOE 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 DOE 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 DOE ranked Wisconsin’s Wolf River Batholith as one of the top three options for a high-level nuclear waste repository.

This 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 area also contains 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 American Indian tribes were overwhelmingly opposed to becoming nuclear guinea pigs for the DOE. 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 DOE 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.”

But 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 (Assembly Bill 384 and Senate Bill 288).

Has Rep. 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, New Mexico. This site was considered the model of safe nuclear waste storage.

But on Valentine’s Day 2014, plutonium and other radioactive elements were accidentally released into the atmosphere from the 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.

Gedicks, of La Crosse, is executive secretary of the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council: www.wrpc.net and agedicks@uwlax.edu.

Categories: Events, Op-Ed, Politics

9 thoughts on “Op-Ed: Bill Could Attract Radioactive Waste Dump”

  1. Nate says:

    This op-ed is very misleading. The bill does not authorize the construction of a nuclear waste repository in Wisconsin. Right now the PSC may not authorize the construction of a new nuclear plant unless the Feds find a waste repository for the spent fuel. This bill lifts the requirement. It doesn’t volunteer Wisconsin to host the repository, which could be anywhere in the world, not just the United States. It doesn’t even make the option any more likely. Wisconsin could block such a repository in the same manner that Nevada (the DOEs first choice) has done for years. A “consent-based” process means just that, Wisconsin would have to consent.

    If the argument is that nuclear power is unnecessary, too expensive, or too dangerous, then make that case. No need to mislead people along the way.

  2. DanG says:

    State Rep. Kevin Peterson is from Waupaca, not Fond du Lac.

  3. AG says:

    Nate’s comments are a good start, but there’s a lot more misinformation and flat out incorrect statements in this op-ed. For starters, Wisconsin was never one of the “final three” options. Those were in Washington and Texas. I would have assumed someone writing an op-ed on this subject would have known that… Further, the site was on a list to explore but never would have been chosen because it didn’t meet a lot of the criteria.

    There’s a lot more going on with this misleading op-ed, but then I’d probably just derail the discussion like the author tries to do when saying new nuclear plants going over budget somehow negates them being far more advanced than ones built decades ago.

    Point being, as Nate already stated, Wisconsin would not be an option for permanent storage and no bill passed by the state changes that.

  4. Tom Martinsen says:

    Residents on Shawano and Menominee Counties were among the first and most abiding voices in what became a large coalition that prevented mining at the head-waters of the Wolf River. It took approximately 20 years to persuade RI0-ALGO-EXXON (name approximate) to withdraw for the meanwhile from their plan to mine at the potential peril of the relatively pristine Wolf River.

    I attended a public hearing on that mining proposal at the Shawano County Park in the winter of 1980 – attended by no more than a dozen people. By the mid 1990’s, the coalition against that proposal had grown to thousands of people. A new nuke plant near the Wolf would not sit well with that coalition. Another nuke plant near the GREAT LAKES? NADA!

  5. jake says:

    Don’t underestimate state Republicans, if the lobby is paying them, they’ll write a bill to create a waste dump. My bet would be Tom Tiffany. He is a tool.

  6. AG says:

    Jake, that’s true. I’m betting they’re already also drafting a bill to force you to give up your first born child to the anti-union establishment army which has been secretly training in the north woods for several years now. You know, because the Koch Brothers want them to.

  7. Tim says:

    Wait until Klappa realizes he could get some of the billions in nuclear waste storage fees collected over the years. AG, I don’t know if you’re stupid or paid off but even you should know, you don’t shit where you drink.

  8. Al Gedicks says:

    My op ed never said that lifting the moratorium on new nuclear reactors would authorize the construction of a nuclear waste repository in Wisconsin. I said it would encourage the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to reconsider the granite bedrock of Wisconsin’s Wolf River Batholith as a possible site. During the 1980s the Wolf River Batholith was high on the list for a second nuclear waste repository, after Yucca Mountain. AG is correct that Washington and Texas were among the final three for a first repository.

    However, Yucca Mountain could not handle all the waste that needed to be stored there so the DOE began looking for a second site from areas in the eastern third of the United States. According to Bob Halstead, the top nuclear waste advisor to the state of Nevada, the site selection criteria, “if applied in a technically objective manner would likely favor consideration of the Wolf River and Puritan Batholiths in Wisconsin, along with granite sites in Minnesota, and salt sites in Utah, Louisiana, and Mississippi (key criteria include absence of earthquakes and volcanoes, predictability of groundwater movement, and thermal loading capacity).”

    Since the 1980s there has been extensive international research on high-level radioactive waste disposal in granite formations and two repository license applications in Sweden and Finland. The Wolf River Batholith remains high on DOE’s list as a possible nuclear waste repository. A 2011 study of granite disposal of high-level radioactive waste by Sandia National Laboratories (a DOE subcontractor) lists the Precambrian granites of the Lake Superior region as “the most stable region of granite outcrops in the U.S.”

    The DOE has just awarded a contract to drill a deep borehole, more than three miles down, into the crystalline granite of Rugby, North Dakota. Although no radioactive waste will be dumped into the hole during the test, the DOE hopes to learn lessons that could be applied to other granite formations. Repealing Wisconsin’s common sense conditions on new nuclear reactors would encourage DOE to reconsider Wisconsin for further study for DOE’s latest experiment for high level radioactive waste disposal in granite.

  9. Vincent Hanna says:

    Lobbyists influencing politicians? AG is right. That is totally nuts. Never ever happens. Certainly not in Wisconsin. And the GOP would never do anything to harm the environment.

    http://www.propublica.org/article/in-wisconsin-dark-money-got-a-mining-company-what-it-wanted

    http://www.jsonline.com/news/wisconsin/mining-firm-has-role-in-drafting-bill-9h8invg-189008511.html

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