Carbon Free, Nuclear Free September 2011 letter to policymakers

Click here for the press release describing this informational packet from Carbon Free, Nuclear Free Wisconsin.


September 26, 2011


To: Governor Scott Walker and Wisconsin Legislators

Re: Wisconsin's Energy Future

As you resume the legislative session, we wanted to provide you with resources that will be helpful as you consider Wisconsin’s energy future.  As organizations, we collectively represent tens of thousands of Wisconsinites from across the state.  Our members are increasingly concerned with our energy choices, especially our reliance on nuclear power.

There have been numerous recent reminders of nuclear's vulnerability and potential for disaster, including the emergency preparedness failures of the nuclear station in Japan last March that led to the largest release of radioactivity since Chernobyl; the Missouri River flood that threatened two reactors in Nebraska in June; and the Las Conchas wildfire that came dangerously close to the Los Alamos Nuclear Research Laboratory in New Mexico in July.  The federal government estimates that a major accident at just one of Wisconsin’s reactors could cost over $40 billion in property damage alone.[1]

Wisconsin is home to three nuclear reactors, all built in the 1970s.  While all three recently extended their operating licenses, their operational lifetime is limited.  Now is the time to consider how best to maintain the state’s energy supplies, while expanding our economy and keeping residents safe.  Our local communities are affected by the operations of these reactors, the radioactive waste that they produce, and decisions regarding their operations, safety and security. 

For example, representatives from the towns of Kewaunee and Point Beach have stated in public hearings that they don’t receive any funds to cover first responder costs of addressing a nuclear accident, despite the major role they would play.  Nor did these communities anticipate that they would be burdened by ever-growing stockpiles of nuclear waste for decades, with no end in sight.  For instance, although the La Crosse Boiling Water Reactor is no longer operating, spent nuclear fuel is still stored at this site.  These are the types of concerns that prompted State Representative Garey Bies to introduce legislation to require utilities to compensate local communities for each year that radioactive waste from a nuclear plant remains in onsite dry cask storage.  Countries across the world are committing to a nuclear-free future that grows local economies.  Asahi Shimbun, Japan’s largest newspaper, ran a five-part series of articles “proposing ways for Japan to achieve a society that does not depend on nuclear power generation for its energy supply.”  And they’re not alone:

      Germany’s parliament decided to completely end its reliance on nuclear power by 2022, making it the first major industrialized nation to retire atomic energy.

      The Swiss government has decided to phase out nuclear power by 2034, after the Japan disaster shook public confidence in the industry.

      Eight European Union countries (Austria, Greece, Ireland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta and Portugal) have created a new anti-nuclear bloc within the European Union.

      Italy held a referendum in June which emphatically rejected a return to nuclear energy generation (Italy's last reactor was closed in 1990 after the disaster at Chernobyl).

Nuclear power has benefited from over $140 billion in federal subsidies over the last 50 years, from liability protection to loan guarantees.[2]  The estimated cost for building just one new nuclear reactor is more than $12 billion, and new plants take at least 10 years for construction and licensing.[3]  The costs for nuclear waste storage continue after the plant is built, and persist for decades after the plant is slated for decommissioning.  In fact, the cost for decommissioning the Vermont Yankee plant alone is estimated at over one billion dollars.

Due to the high costs and high risks - the U.S. Congressional Budget Office has estimated that half of the loans for nuclear power projects will be defaulted on[4] - Wall Street will not finance new nuclear reactors.  As a result, the nuclear industry wants the federal government to provide full loan guarantees for up to 80% of the capital cost for new reactors.  Why should taxpayers be forced to take a risk that private investors won't?  Even John Rowe of Exelon, which owns and operates the largest nuclear fleet in the country, has repeatedly stated that nuclear is not a good choice for future electricity generation, due to the high cost of new reactors.[5] 

Despite the high cost of new nuclear and the ongoing risks and costs associated with growing stockpiles of radioactive waste, there continues to be talk about building nuclear reactors in Wisconsin.  New reactors would burden Wisconsin families and businesses with increased electricity costs, while increasing the public health and safety risks from the storage of radioactive nuclear waste.

It does not take an earthquake or a tsunami to have a nuclear accident, as Three Mile Island and Chernobyl demonstrated.  Human error, equipment failure or flooding is enough.  Even without an accident, each nuclear plant houses a growing amount of radioactive waste.  With no federal plan to deal with this waste, how will we keep the surrounding residents and environment safe for the hundreds of thousands of years that it remains toxic?

Wisconsin's current and future energy needs can be met more easily than overcoming the many serious risks of nuclear energy.  We can expand energy efficiency and customer-generated distributed energy.  We can back up daytime utility-scale solar with nighttime wind, geothermal and biomass.  We can upgrade to a smart power grid that can store energy and allow consuming devices to communicate with producing devices.

Energy efficiency technologies are the cheapest and fastest methods to reduce power plant pollution.  They save consumers money and boost local economies.  Wind energy combined with storage technology is already cheaper than building a nuclear reactor, and wind provides consistent and reliable power.[6]  The cost of solar power has decreased 50% in the past two years, while the estimates for new nuclear have doubled. 7

Wisconsin has an opportunity to be a leader in the clean energy economy.  We know that you care about creating family-supporting jobs, protecting the health of our citizens, and sustaining our natural resources.  We do as well.  We urge you to oppose any bills that weaken or eliminate Wisconsin's cost and waste safeguards for nuclear reactors, and support energy policies that help us realize our clean energy potential.


Shahla Werner, PhD, Chapter Director,                        Pam Kleiss, Executive Director

Sierra Club - John Muir Chapter                                 Physicians for Social Responsibility Wisconsin


Diane Farsetta, PhD, Executive Director                                   Christina Mills, Staff Scientist/Policy Analyst

Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice                Institute for Energy and Environmental Research


Al Gedicks, Executive Secretary                                               John LaForge, Co-Director

Wisconsin Resources Protection Council                 Nukewatch





Additional organizations endorsing this memo who are not members of the CFNF coalition include:

Charlie Higley, Executive Director
Citizens Utility Board

Andrea Kaminski, Executive Director
League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Education Network

Katie Nekola, General Counsel
Clean Wisconsin

Burke O'Neal, Owner

Full Spectrum Solar

Andy Olsen, Senior Policy Advocate                           
Environmental Law & Policy Center

Katie Peterman, Cooperative Affairs
Organic Valley Family of Farms

Megan Severson, State Advocate
Wisconsin Environment Research and Policy Center

Bruce Speight, Director

Kimberlee Wright, Executive Director
Midwest Environmental Advocates

Rev. Susan Gilbert Zencka, President
Wisconsin Interfaith Power & Light

The following articles were included in this informational packet:


The High Cost of Nuclear Energy

      Georgia Power trashes regulatory staff's financial proposal for Vogtle cost overruns, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 6, 2011

      The Nuclear Bailout: President Obama's High Risk Gamble on New Nuclear Reactors Undermines the Fight Against Global Warming, Environment America Research and Policy Center, 2010

      Nuclear Loan Guarantees: Another Taxpayer Bailout?, Union of Concerned Scientists, May 2009


The Safety of U.S. Nuclear Plants

      U.S. nuclear industry weighs costs of safety reforms, Reuters, July 13, 2011

      NRC and industry rewrite nuke history, Associated Press, June 28, 2011

      Tritium leaks found at many nuke sites, Associated Press, June 21, 2011

      U.S. nuke regulators weaken safety rules, Associated Press, June 20, 2011

      Problems cited with nuclear backup power, The Boston Globe, May 13, 2011

      Disaster plan problems found at U.S. nuclear plants, The New York Times, May 12, 2011

      Fukushima Fallout: Regulatory Loopholes at U.S. Nuclear Plants, Congressman Edward J. Markey's office, May 12, 2011


The Health Impacts of the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster

      Shovelful by shovelful: Irradiated town struggles to clean up after Fukushima, Associated Press, August 19, 2011

      Japanese parents live with radiation fear, Agence France-Presse, August 5, 2011


The Safety of Nuclear Waste Storage

      A safer nuclear crypt, The New York Times, July 5, 2011


Carbon-Free, Nuclear-Free Policies

      Germany, in Reversal, Will Close Nuclear Plants by 2022, The New York Times, May 30, 2011


Energy Efficiency

  • Power demand from U.S. homes falling, Associated Press, September 7, 2011

[1] Sandia National Laboratory, "Calculation of Reactor Accident Consequences" (CRAC-2), U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, November 1, 1982.  Note that the cost assessment is in 1982 dollars.

[2] Environment America Research and Policy Center, "The Nuclear Bailout: President Obama's High Risk Gamble on New Nuclear Reactors Undermines the Fight Against Global Warming," 2010, page 45.

[3] Arjun Makhijani, PhD, "Assessing Nuclear Plant Capital Costs for the Two Proposed NRG Reactors at the South Texas Project Site," Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, March 24, 2008.

[4] U.S. Congressional Budget Office, "Cost Estimate: S. 14, Energy Policy Act of 2003," May 7, 2003.

[5] World Nuclear News, “Economics hinder US new build”, August 16, 2011.  Mr. Rowe also stated this in his keynote speech at the UW-Nelson Institute Earth Day event in Madison, on April 20, 2011.

[6] National Renewable Energy Laboratory, "Cost and Performance Assumptions for Modeling Electricity Generation Technologies," U.S. Department of Energy, November 2010.

7 GTM Research, "U.S. Solar Market Insight 2010 Year in Review," Solar Energy Industries Association, 2010, page 10.