Death by Fracking
Too much gas dooms Kewaunee plant.
Fracking has killed the smaller of Wisconsin's two nuclear power plants. The drilling technique that breaks up natural gas reserves in underground rock formations -- freeing up massive amounts of the resource for use in power plants -- has driven down wholesale power prices to a ten-year low. The slump is hurting the drillers themselves (as The New York Times reported this weekend) and power companies such as Virginia-based Dominion, which purchased the Kewaunee Power Station in 2005.
The company announced today it'll shut down the plant in mid-2013, although it cleared a special inspection last year by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. After the Fukushima disaster in Japan, the agency inspected all U.S. reactors (Kewaunee, north of Manitowoc on the Lake Michigan shore, has one) to assess their disaster preparedness. Kewaunee earned mostly good marks, but inspectors noted the plant's "severe accident management guidelines" hadn't been updated since 2000, and some of its personnel had not received training that was implemented after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Commissioned in 1974, the plant also relied on an emergency generator attached to its roof, where it would be vulnerable to severe weather.
Dominion officials said they had hoped to buy other plants in the Midwest to spread out costs, and owning only the small generator in Wisconsin proved too expensive. An attempt to sell the plant failed.
Gov. Scott Walker sent out a statement blaming the federal government and the EPA for obstructing energy companies with unneeded regulations. The State of Wisconsin has a policy that effectively bars the construction of new atomic plants, and Walker has called to reverse it.
Kewaunee County officials are reeling over Dominion's announcement. The plant is the area's largest employer.
Combined, the Kewaunee Plant and the nearby Point Beach Nuclear Power Plant have historically produced about a fifth of the state's electricity.