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Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin introduced a bill last week that would end the state’s 32-year-old moratorium on building new nuclear power reactors.
Tandem bills in the Assembly and the Senate would repeal a 1983 requirement that the state Public Service Commission not approve construction of new reactors unless there is an operational federal storage site for all the high-level radioactive waste fuel from all the state’s reactors. No such waste site is going to be approved for another 10 years or so.
At the Point Beach station on Lake Michigan, two reactors are still churning out high-level waste. Two others, one at Kewaunee and one near La Crosse, have been shut down with all their waste fuel rods stored indefinitely on site.
“Nuclear will be an essential part of the nation’s energy portfolio as new federal regulations limit carbon emissions,” Bill Skewes, executive director of the Wisconsin Utilities Association told the La Crosse Tribune. Some influential insiders disagree.
Not so fast Bill.
John Rowe, who retired in 2012 as chairman and CEO of Exelon, Inc. which operates more reactors than any other utility in the US -- 22 -- told Forbes on March 29, 2012, “I’ve never met a nuclear plant I didn’t like. Let me also state unequivocally that new ones don’t make any sense right now . It just isn’t economic, and it’s not economic within a foreseeable time frame.”
Likewise Marvin Fertel, president of the Nuclear Energy Institute, a lobbying arm of the nuclear industry, told Scientific American, Feb. 9, 2012, “We won’t build large numbers of new nuclear plants in the U.S. in the near term,” “Today, you ought to build gas.”
And the Chief Executive Officer of General Electric, the global reactor manufacturing giant, has said “today never do nuclear.” Jeffrey Immelt told the Wall Street Journal Sept. 25, 2010, “If you were a utility CEO and looked at your world today, you would just do gas and wind. ... You would never do nuclear. The economics are overwhelming.”
$19 Billion and Counting
Just how overwhelming was trumpeted this August when Dominion Virginia Power admitted that the capital cost of a third power reactor at its North Anna facility will total over $19 billion, according to filings in its 2015 biennial review before the State Corporation Commission..
Scott Norwood, an energy consultant hired by the Virginia’s Attorney General to analyze Dominion’s earnings evaluations, notes that this capital cost is “approximately ten times the capital cost of [Dominion’s] new Brunswick combined cycle unit,” which will burn natural gas.
Because of the high capital expense, the total projected delivered price of power from North Anna Unit 3 will be 19 cents per kilowatt-hour. Dominion currently sells electricity to its customers at retail for between 5.5 and 11 cents/kWh.
Dominion had kept secret its cost projections for North Anna 3 -- until a rate case forced the disclosure. Company execs said earlier only that the cost would be “far north of 10 billion.”
Attorney Ivy Main, chair of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, reported in the Richmond Times Dispatch that at $19 billion, North Anna 3 would be the most expensive reactor in the world. “On a per-megawatt basis, it would be ten times the cost of the company’s newest natural gas generating plant.”
According to Main, the electricity produced by the new reactor, if it’s ever built, will cost “between two and four times more than the cost of alternatives including natural gas, solar and wind energy.”
Dominion also owns the defunct Kewaunee reactor in Wisconsin, which shut down in 2013. The company has said it will take 40 years to decommission the shuttered, rusting, irradiated behemoth.
Maybe Dominion could raise Kewaunee from the dead for less than the $19 billion it will take to start from scratch in Virginia. Then the company wouldn’t need a repeal of Wisconsin’s reactor construction moratorium, and would at least save itself the money going to pay off its friends in the state legislature.