Monday, February 29, 2016

The 10-Year Road to Repealing Wisconsin's Ban on Nuclear Energy

Mike McGarey
The following is a guest post from Mike McGarey, senior advisor for local and state government affairs at NEI. 

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a polarizing issue – viewed by some as partisan, and a long shot in a purple state – into the successful reform of outdated policy.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.

2008

Frank Jablonski
One such activist emerged at a March 2008 Wisconsin Public Utility Institute “Advances in Nuclear” conference in Madison, in the person of an environmental attorney and former general counsel to Clean Wisconsin's predecessor organization, Wisconsin's Environmental Decade. Frank Jablonski had litigated environmental cases for years but was largely self-taught (and remarkably conversant on) nuclear safety, reactor technology, used fuel management and the considerable clean air and zero-carbon benefits of nuclear energy. Before the audience of policymakers, academics, utility representatives and more than a few nuclear opponents, Frank told the story of how his own dogged research and open mind had caused him to change his stance on nuclear energy from “against” to “strongly in favor.” Despite the disapproval of some of his former allies in the environmental movement, Frank became a one-man nuclear advocacy machine.

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.

2010

In the 2010 election for governor, won by Republican Scott Walker, both candidates had supported nuclear energy. Nuclear moratorium legislation was introduced in several more sessions, but invariably languished, despite the efforts of Democratic lawmakers such as Assemblyman Jim Soletski and Senator Jeffrey Plale, who were great champions and devoted legislators. 

2011 – 2014

The March 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan effectively ended the moratorium repeal movement for several years, as the U.S. nuclear industry rebuilt the public’s trust in the inherent safety of the American reactor fleet. The attempted 2012 recall of Governor Walker (which failed) and 13 sitting state senators from both parties in 2011 and 2012 (all but three recall attempts failed) didn’t help prospects for bipartisan cooperation on repealing the ban.

2015 – 2016

But Frank Jablonski kept in touch with nuclear supporters in the legislature, governor’s office, Public Service Commission and in the labor, business, academic, environmental and Madison policy communities, looking for opportunities to grow awareness of nuclear’s special attributes. He met Assemblyman Kevin Petersen (R-Waupaca), a Navy veteran and nuclear reactor operator-turned-small businessman, who resurrected the effort to finally repeal Wisconsin’s nuclear ban. Assembly and Senate committees prepared for hearings on Rep. Petersen’s repeal bill, AB 384, in November 2015, and its Senate companion.

In December, the Assembly Committee on Energy & Utilities unanimously approved Rep. Petersen’s bill 13-0 prior to its adoption by the full body by voice vote. Last week, the Senate adopted the bill on a strong, bipartisan vote of 23-9, with the Senate Democratic leadership joining the majority.

During the 10 years between the 2006 debate and this latest round of legislation, the world changed greatly. A broad scientific consensus emerged that there is no credible strategy for reducing carbon emissions from the electricity sector that doesn’t include more nuclear generation. Commercial nuclear energy was a key component of the U.S. carbon reduction commitments at the recent international climate talks in Paris. Wisconsin media editorialized in favor of lifting the ban and praised the Senate’s vote.
  
Here’s what environmentalist Margi Kindig wrote in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal: 
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.
And just as earlier classes of UW-Madison engineering students had welcomed the pro-nuclear co-founder of Greenpeace to campus like a rock star eight years ago, today’s engineers are ready to work in nuclear…in Wisconsin! The state’s skilled workforce continues to maintain the two operating reactors and is ready to build more.

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. 

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Bloomberg Reporter Takes Tour of Callaway Nuclear Plant

Rebecca Kern
Last week, the University of Missouri School of Journalism held a workshop for journalists on nuclear energy.

Also included as part of the program was a tour of the Callaway Energy Center operated by Ameren Missouri.

One of the reporters on the tour, Bloomberg's Rebecca Kern, took photos of the plant and shared them via Storify. We've embedded her narrative below. Please check it out.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Thorium Triggers Invasion of Norway (On Netflix)

Here at NEI, we try to keep an eye out for any television program or film that involves nuclear energy. As we've written in the past, the results can be something of a mixed bag. That's part of the reason that Pandora's Promise was such a pleasant surprise. After seeing nuclear energy viewed through a lens darkly most of the time, it was something of a shock to the system to see it described with optimism and hope.

In Occupied, Norway is all in on thorium reactors.
Enter Occupied (or Okkupert for my Norwegian relatives), a political thriller that debuted on European television last Fall and is now available here in the U.S. on Netflix. So what's the plot?

Warning, minor spoilers ahead.

Sometime in the near future, Norway is struck by a climate-related natural disaster, paving the way for the election of a Green Party government. Once in power, the new prime minister (Henrik Mestad) decides his nation needs to lead by example and stop using fossil fuels, and that means immediately shutting down all of Norway's oil and gas fields.

So what does our intrepid prime minister intend to use to replace all that oil and natural gas? Does he call for a radical expansion of renewables, insisting they could do the job alone? If you said yes, you'd be wrong. Instead, he plans to power all of those retrofitted cars and heat all of those homes with zero-carbon nuclear energy, but generated with thorium instead of uranium.

For the sake of artistic license, we'll put aside whether or not such a course is reasonable, never mind economically viable (hint, it isn't). Given that Norway is one of the leading sources of oil and natural gas production in the European Union (minor spoilers at the link), not everyone is happy with his decision.

After announcing his plan at a press conference at the nation's only thorium reactor, the prime minister is kidnapped and roughed up by a team of special forces operators. He's given an ultimatum on behalf of Norway's European neighbors: either re-start fossil fuel production and accept Russian help to make it happen or be invaded. Faced with overwhelming odds, he and his government capitulate.

In other words, Norway becomes finlandized (rim shot). I won't say much else besides the fact the Russians are understandably upset with the story line and that the drama kept me entertained all weekend. If you've got Netflix, check it out. And don't worry if your Norwegian is a bit rusty, they have subtitles and shift into English pretty frequently.

POSTSCRIPT: Now that we've provided the spoon full of sugar, here's the medicine.  As our Matt Wald reported last week, Lightbridge has designed a new type of reactor fuel that promises to increase the power output of traditional light water reactors by anywhere between 17-30%. Where will they be testing that fuel? If you said Norway, you're right. The plan is for the fuel to be tested at the Halden Reactor, a 20MW BWR located in Halden, Norway.

Norway is an important international partner in advanced reactor research. Keeping that relationship vital is just one of the reasons we'll need to renew our 123 agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation with Norway before it expires.

Thorium is an interesting technology that isn't going to be commercially available for some time, but as we noted above, there are a number of other interesting designs that we think ought to come online in the 2030s. Want to know more about thorium? We've always pointed folks to the website, Energy From Thorium. And for those of us who have been knocking around online talking about nuclear energy for the last decade, you can't do better than Kirk Sorensen when it comes to evangelizing the technology.

Needless to say, unlike the strife depicted in Occupied, Kirk believes that thorium, like other nuclear technologies, promises to help power a better and brighter world. And that's a refreshing change of pace, isn't it?