The old saying "marry in haste, repent in leisure" came to mind this week when we saw a trio of Republican legislators were advancing a proposal to lift Wisconsin's defacto ban on nuclear power plant construction.
The ban was enacted 26 years ago, just a few years after the Three Mile Island hysteria gripped the country. You remember Three Mile Island? The United States' worst nuclear accident in 1979, that led to no deaths, no injuries to plant workers and none to civilians near the plant. It did, however, kill business for new nuclear power plants for a quarter of a century.
In that time, the record for the nation's roughly 100 nuclear plants has been a safe one. Yet no new plants have been built in the United States and the country gets only 20 percent of its electric power from existing nuclear plants.
Three state lawmakers, state Rep. Mike Huebsch, R-West Salem, state Rep. Phil Montgomery, R-Ashwaubenon, and state Sen. Joe Liebham, R-Sheboygan, on Monday proposed untying that "No Nukes" knot.
Perhaps they were being a bit tongue or just trying to garner a little Democrat support when they announced their plan and suggested it would shore up the "work of the Governor's Global Warming Task Force ... since its proposals to reduce emissions are not paired with new baseload generation sources."
"Unless nuclear power is at the heart of any plan to lower carbon emissions," said Rep. Montgomery, "Little progress will be made toward reducing our reliance on fossil fuel. Wisconsin has to catch up with the rest of the country and the rest of the world, where nuclear is recognized as a safe way to expand electric generation capacity and reduce pollution without crippling the economy."
The GOP green nuclear argument actually has some merit. Consider for a moment the number of lives lost annually in coal mining and transportation accidents each year, the health costs associated with coal-fired plant emissions or the higher costs anticipated with stricter emissions controls and cap and trade proposals.
That's not to say that nuclear doesn't have its problems. But one of the key ones - the storage of spent nuclear fuel at Yucca Mountain, Nev. - is essentially a political one, courtesy of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and President Barack Obama - who have cut funding for the licensing of the repository.
Even without a firm federal commitment for long-term spent fuel storage, nuclear power is showing signs of a rebound.
Here in the United States, 25 new nuclear reactors are being considered for federal permits and construction on some of them could begin as early as 2011. Four to eight of them could be online and producing electricity by 2017.
So, too, the political tide against nuclear power appears to be turning in other countries. Over the weekend, China approved construction of another plant as part of its ambitious nuclear construction program. It will be based on technologies imported from U.S.-based Westinghouse.
Germany, meanwhile, has elected a right-of-center majority coalition that wants to scuttle a previous plan to shut down 17 nuclear reactors.
Given the Democratic control of the Senate, the Assembly and the governor's office, some would say the Huebsch-Montgomery-Leibham proposal is just tilting at windmills. But windmills, conservation and other alternatives won't be adequate to fill Wisconsin's energy needs tomorrow. Coal and natural gas have their own problems with costs. Sometime soon, Wisconsin will have to stop being so leisurely and take another good look at nuclear power.