In the Spotlight

News & Features
Go to Session 2003
DocumentSession 2003
DocumentBudget and Taxes
DocumentHigher Education
DocumentK-12 Education
DocumentHealth and Welfare
DocumentPublic Safety
More from MPR
Your Voice

DocumentE-mail this pageDocumentPrint this page
Plan filed to overturn nuke waste restrictions at Prairie Island
Larger view
Sen. Mark Ourada's plan would remove any state restrictions on nuclear waste storage at Prairie Island. (MPR Photo/Michael Khoo)
A group of lawmakers on Wednesday outlined a proposal to to extend the operational life of the Prairie Island nuclear power plant. Under a 1994 agreement between the state and Northern States Power -- now Xcel Energy -- the utility was restricted in its ability to store spent nuclear fuel at the Prairie Island facility. The new proposal would scrap those limitations. And it's raised concerns among environmentalists and a neighboring Indian tribe.

St. Paul, Minn. — After a contentious 1994 debate, the state of Minnesota allowed Xcel Energy to store nuclear waste in 17 above-ground dry-casks on site at Prairie Island. It was meant to be a temporary solution until a permanent federal repository could be identified. But plans for a permanent site in Nevada's Yucca Mountain have yet to jell. That's prompted Sen. Mark Ourada, R-Buffalo, to call for a re-examination of the '94 storage limitations.

"Minnesota consumers need reliable and cost-effective electricity, whether that is for homeowners during the cold winters or during those hot, muggy summer days when we have peak demands, and whether it be for businesses producing goods for our economy, for health care or high-tech industries," he said.

Ourada's plan would remove any state restrictions on nuclear waste storage at Prairie Island. It would also automatically grant state approval for the plant's continued operation if it receives federal approval.

The same would apply to the Monticello nuclear facility. But Sen. Ellen Anderson, EFL-St. Paul, says that's backpedalling. Anderson chairs the Senate Commerce and Utilities committee. She says the goal of the '94 agreement was to replace nuclear power with other alternatives, including wind and biomass generation.

"The state told Xcel, 'Figure out a way to replace the power at Prairie Island and get this plant ready to shut down.' And so, they already should have figured it out, number one. So it's quite disingenuous of them to be saying we have to figure it out, because that was their job," she said.

Xcel representative Laura McCarten says the company wasn't involved in drafting Ourada's proposal, but she says Xcel supports the plan's goals. She says Xcel is willing and able to shutter the facilities if necessary, but that it will require an expensive fossil-fuel based replacement. For that reason, she says nuclear power is the preferred option.

"We believe that that is the lowest cost thing for our customers, it has the lowest air emissions, and it presents the least risk to our energy reliability -- the reliability of our system. So we support that concept: continued nuclear operation," according to McCarten.

But lawmakers and Xcel may find their hands tied. The '94 agreement names the Prairie Island Indian Community as a third-party beneficiary with the authority to enforce the deal.

Attorney John Knapp, who represents the tribe, says tribal members are worried about the security of the highly-radioactive material. "The tribe has a number of very legitimate health and safety concerns that have actually been there for quite awhile. Certainly the terrorist attack since Sept. 11 has only increased those concerns. We expect that any legislation that passes this year is going to have to take into account the concerns of the tribe."

Knapp says he's had conversations with Ourada and Xcel Energy. He says there's still a possibility for compromise. But he warns that tribal members are fully prepared to turn to the courts if it necessary to protect their interests.

Respond to this story
News Headlines
Related Subjects