Nuclear industry targeting Wisconsin; pro-nuke convert is paid lobbyist

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Just in time for the 30th anniversary of the Three Mile Island accident on March 28 comes more evidence that the nuclear industry is making Wisconsin a prime target for making nuclear power an option again.

In the last month, Wisconsin has seen a stacked legislative hearing, a drumbeat of pro-nuclear articles in Madison's daily press, and a concerted public relations effort here with visits by two nuclear power advocacy groups.

Now, Diane Farsetta of the Center for Media and Democracy has discovered that the nuclear industry has four lobbyists registered to work the Capitol and state agencies. It's the first time the Nuclear Energy Institute has had lobbyists here since at least 1996, she says in an article at PRWatch.org.

And although more that a dozen states have laws similar to Wisconsin's moratorium, NEI has registered lobbyists in only two other states -- and one per state versus four here.  Three of the four are staff members of NEI in Washington, but the fourth is home-grown.

The star lobbyist in Wisconsin -- although he usually isn't identified as a lobbyist -- is Frank Jablonski, a former environmental lawyer who's done a flip-flop on nuclear power. As Farsetta notes, the media love stories about no-nukers who've jumped the fence -- but the story's not quite as good if the convert is on the industry payroll. Jablonski was one of the witnesses at the stacked legislative hearing, but no one mentioned he was on NEI's payroll. He was listed on the hearing agenda as the founder of the Progressive Law Group, his law firm. Nice touch.

Why Wisconsin, a state with a history of anti-nuclear activity that stopped three proposed reactors from being built in the 1970s, passed a moratorium on more plants, and voted 8-1 against a nuclear waste disposal site here?

What makes Wisconsin so attractive to the pro-nukers right now is a set of recommendations from the Governor's Task Force on Global Warming, which includes a relaxation in the current law on licensing nuclear power plants.

The law now requires there to be a federal storage facility to handle the deadly, high level radioactive waste from the plants before any more can be built. The new law would eliminate that requirement.

Trouble is, after 50 years of producing more waste every day the industry and the government still have no long-term solution. It is piling up at nuclear reactors across the country, including three in Wisconsin.

How dangerous is it? The Environmental Protection Agency says some of it is so deadly it must be kept out of the environment for up to a million years. As I pointed out in a recent op ed column, a mere 15,000 years ago our state was covered by glaciers. So planning for a million years out is going to be tough.

The recommendations aren't going to come up for action in the legislature until later in the year, but the nuclear railroad is building up a head of steam now. Meanwhile, many of the environmental groups that have historically opposed nuclear power in the state -- some of the same groups who helped pass the moratorium law and prevented its repeal in past sessions -- were members of the governor's task force.  They have agreed to support the whole package -- which contains some very good changes in the law to sharply reduce and limit greenhouse gas emissions, among other things -- and not try to pick out the parts they don't like. 

It is not likely to be a fair fight, with the money all on the industry's side and many of the environmental lobbyists on the sideline.   But there will be a solid grassroots effort to keep the current law in place.  Count on it.  This is still Wisconsin.

Happy TMI Day, everyone.