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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Saturday, June 22, 2024

Wisconsin should weigh nuclear power option

Most Wisconsinites have never thought to choose between global warming and nuclear power. Today Wisconsin seems to be much more afraid of things heating up than of things melting down. But 26 years ago it was a different fear that kept environmental studies professors awake at night.

In 1983 Wisconsin decided it was more frightened of nuclear power plants than other sources of power and created legislation that, for all practical purposes, banned the construction of new reactors. But that was before global warming hysteria had really set in. If opponents of greenhouse gas want to make a difference, they have to stop promoting renewable energy and start promoting clean nuclear energy.

Our fears of nuclear power hit their stride in 1979 with the partial-core meltdown at Three Mile Island. While the incident was scary, the actual health consequences for those living in the area are debatable at best. Nevertheless, the incident had a great effect on Wisconsin politics. Legislation was put forward that stated nuclear power plants had to be cost effective for those who purchased the electricity, and a permanent location for radioactive waste had to exist. After the law was passed, the 1986 meltdown at Chernobyl seemed to reinforce our tough stance on this issue—why take the risk of obtaining, handling and disposing of a dangerous source of energy when we have fossil fuels?

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In the face of the current energy crisis, this logic seems outdated and detrimental. Obviously we can no longer depend on fossil fuels for over sixty percent of Wisconsin's energy. But clean renewable sources of power are not efficient enough to meet the demand, requiring lots of space and resources to help create more resources. This is where nuclear power enters the picture as an intermediary between fossil fuels and renewable energy sources. It has the benefits of cheap, efficient fossil fuels without the environmental mess, but it has been passed up for fear of safety and lack of renewability. This cost-benefit analysis has begun to change as environmentalism and ecosystem health becomes our top priority. 

The plants Wisconsin already had in operation before the 1983 ban still produce about four times more energy than sources such as solar, hydro and wind. When compared to problems such as acid rain, greenhouse gas, asthma, ozone alert day, and pollution, the nuclear option becomes even more desirable.

While alternative sources of power should continue to be developed, we could reduce our dependence on fossil fuels if we remove the barriers we put in place to the opening of new nuclear plants. Nuclear power has come a long way since the 1979 meltdown, and we have experienced no major environmental disasters in 30 years. Today this source of power is not considered renewable, but it is considered safe, clean, and efficient.

Opponents of nuclear energy often cite the 1983 legislation as reasonable expectations that should be met rather than an outright moratorium. It is true that if a site for spent nuclear fuel were found and it could be proved that nuclear fuel is more cost effective than traditional power, new plants would be allowed to open. But we do not hold other forms of power to these same standards. Why do we not require new coal plants to prove they have a safe disposal site for their carbon dioxide emissions? Do we really consider fossil fuels to be cost effective, let alone good for national security? Nuclear power should not be the only power industry that has to prove itself to the public. All forms of power should compete in an open market so the public can choose which benefits and consequences it is willing to accept.

Nuclear technology has advanced to the point where fears of meltdowns or radiation poisoning are negligible. Most states and the federal government have gotten over the fear nuclear energy created after the partial core meltdown at Three Mile Island. Our military puts nuclear reactors on many of its ships as well as most of its submarines. Our sailors have been living right on top of these reactors for decades without major incident. Most states produce far more energy than we do in nuclear power.

We continue to hear about global warming on a daily basis but problems faced by these other states regarding their nuclear power plants rarely reach our ears. It is no coincidence that California is one of the few states with a ban on nuclear power. While the question of what to do with nuclear waste still remains to be answered, Wisconsin needs to consider this option. Nuclear power is an effective solution that will support our development until renewable energy catches up with our demands.

Andrew Carpenter is a senior majoring in communication arts and psychology. Please send all responses to opinion@dailycardinal.com

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