The pristine shoreline of Lake Michigan is home to Wisconsin's only operating nuclear power plants. These giant reactors supply one-fifth of the state's electricity. There's no doubt the energy landscape is changing, some argue we still need nuclear and will need more of it.
"We have to look at nuclear," said State Representative Phil Montgomery, R-Ashwaubenon.
But to some, the nuclear option is not an option.
"I think nuclear power essentially is just one big boondoggle," countered Katie Nekola from Clean Wisconsin.
The Kewaunee power station is located along Highway 42 in Kewaunee County. At 35 years old, it's the youngest nuclear reactor in Wisconsin. The plant's license expires in 2013 but its owner, Virginia-based Dominion Energy, has applied for a 20-year extension.
About five miles to the south, the Point Beach nuclear power plant already has an extension on its two reactors. The plant is owned by Florida-based Next Era Energy. The first reactor at Point Beach is almost 40 years old now and the plan is to operate the reactor for another 20 years, until it's 60. The second reactor is just three years younger. It went online in 1973 and will run until 2033, when it too is 60 years old.
FOX 11 wanted to talk with representatives from both power plants for this story. In fact, we spent more than one month contacting both plants. But neither would talk to us for this story. They wouldn't even let our cameras on the property.
We were still able to get some video. We just had dig back more than 10 years into our archives to find it. The plants both had different owners back then. The video shows the very crisp, almost sterile working environment. This is where energy is made.
Montgomery is a staunch supporter of nuclear power.
"If we want to participate in the global economy that relies on affordable energy we have to look at nuclear," Montgomery said. "It's just as simple as that."
According to the Department of Energy, 19% of the electricity in Wisconsin comes from nuclear power. That's second only to coal which generates 67.5%. Natural gas makes up 8.2 %, water, wind and solar make up 5.2%.
Nationwide, nuclear makes up 19%, natural gas 21% and coal about 50%. The Department of Energy predicts the demand for energy in the country will grow by more than 20% by 2030. As the country looks for ways to reduce carbon emissions, there is a push for more nuclear plants.
There are currently 104 nuclear reactors in the United States. Within the last few years, 20 companies have submitted applications to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build 26 new reactors. If any plans come to fruition, it would be the first new nuclear reactor in the country in more than 20 years. It definitely won't be in Wisconsin. That's because back in 1983, the legislature put a moratorium in place, effectively banning the future development of nuclear plants.
"We had a lot of capacity that was built up and that we've slowly been eating away at by growth in demand," said UW-Madison professor Michael Corradini. "Because of that we're at a situation where we have to do something, we can't wait anymore."
Corradini chairs the nuclear engineering program at UW-Madison. In an interview with FOX 11, he said Wisconsin's ban on new nuclear plants should be lifted so companies can plan for the future.
"There's so much that's necessary in terms of planning, certification, licensing and then regulation during construction that you have to have almost a 10 year forward window of forward planning portfolio," Corradini said. "So if I want to operate in Wisconsin in 2020, I have to start thinking about it now."
We wanted to know what the owners of Wisconsin's nuclear plants thought about the ban but as we said earlier, neither plant would sit down for an interview. There are signs the tide may be changing in Wisconsin. Earlier this year, the governor's Global Warming Task Force recommended lifting the ban. Still, some groups who backed the task force report clearly do not back nuclear power.
"We think that nuclear really doesn't have a future in the state," said Nekola, the energy program director at Clean Wisconsin. She told FOX 11 the state needs to focus on other types of energy, like wind, solar and biomass, not on nuclear.
"I don't think nuclear power has a place in our energy mix going forward. I don't think we need it," Nekola said. "I think we need to maximize our efforts towards energy efficiency, conservation and renewable energy and that's where we should put our resources."
"Nuclear is one of the most expensive ways of generating electricity," said Charlie Higley, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board, a group that lobbies for lower utility rates. He says the biggest cost with nuclear is the construction of the plants.
Industry groups agree. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, new nuclear plants cost $6-8 billion. But once the plants are built, the NEI says nuclear costs 1.87 cents per kilowatt hour. That's lower than coal at 2.75 cents and natural gas at 8.09 cents.
Higley says in the future, we need to focus on new technologies.
"We need to move toward efficiency and renewable energy to help reduce our dependence on coal and nuclear because of high costs and their negative impacts on the environment," Higley said.
Corradini said he has nothing against renewables. But he said wind and solar are just part of the energy solution, but not the whole solution.
"We have to be honest with the public which is if you want to use wind you have to build four times the capacity you actually use, three to four times the capacity you use, and you got to connect it with transmission lines. Currently today, people aren't very thrilled about putting up transmission lines," Corradini said.
"It's not an easy answer to any of this stuff," said State Representative Jim Soletski, D-Green Bay. Soletski worked in the nuclear industry for more than 30 years, including more than 20 years at the Kewaunee Power Station. He is now one of the biggest advocates of nuclear power in the legislature.
"We have to look at energy from all means, not just wind turbines or photovoltaic cells or squirrels in a cage," Soletski said. "We have to look at everything and that would include nuclear plants."
Whatever happens in Wisconsin and in the country may be irrelevant. The fact is companies are building nuclear power plants around the world. Right now, 44 new plants are under construction in 20 countries.
A juvenile male was arrested after Green Bay police say he crashed a stolen vehicle overnight.
An Oshkosh woman was injured after the vehicle she was driving hit a building in Outagamie County.
The city's school board has decided to move ahead with a multi-million dollar referendum.
Crashes up and down Highway 41 kept law enforcement busy on Monday.
The victim in a weekend shooting at an Appleton night club is being kept alive on life support so his family can donate his organs.
There was enough snow Monday to make driving a challenge, including one deadly crash in the Fox Cities.