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
DocumentJoin the conversation with other MPR listeners in the News Forum.

DocumentE-mail this pageDocumentPrint this page
Tribe, Xcel reach agreement on nuclear waste storage
Larger view
The Prairie Island nuclear plant is 600 yards from the neighboring Indian reservation. (MPR file photo)

Red Wing, Minn. — The Prairie Island tribe has long raised concerns about storing spent fuel at the nuclear power plant that stands just 600 yards from its reservation.

Tribal spokesman Jake Reint says the tentative agreement addresses long-standing tribal concerns about health and safety.

"They have had to carry the burden of the plant's nuclear waste and the threat to their community by itself for a very long time. So this is a way to address that going forward," he said.

The agreement includes an improved evacuation route, more land to house members who wish to move farther away from the plant, and a health study.

In a perfect world, we would never again need to be concerned about nuclear power or nuclear waste. But we need to be pragmatic, and this agreement helps make a bad situation better.
- Audrey Bennett, Prairie Island president

Xcel energy would foot the bill for the improvements, including $1 million per year for as long as the plant operates, $450,000 for each year nuclear waste is stored at the plant, $700,000 each year for 10 years for a new evacuation plan and land acquisition and development. The plan also calls for Xcel to pay $100,000 annually for 10 years for a health study and emergency management activities.

Xcel state public affairs director Scott Wilensky says it's the first time the company has entered into a financial relationship with the tribe. He calls the amount "reasonable."

Wilensky says while Xcel is eager to address tribal concerns, the company does not believe the plant poses health risks to tribal members.

"We have workers who work in the plants every day and are exposed even closer to the sources of radiation. We've done health studies with respect to our workers. We've not seen any adverse health impacts. The tribe wanted to conduct health studies with respect to their membership and with respect to a wide variety of health issues. So we felt that as part of trying to resolve this dispute, we thought that was a reasonable way to do it," Wilensky said.

In exchange for the financial settlement, Xcel Energy gets something it needs: clarification from the tribe that it will not oppose Xcel's latest request to add nuclear storage casks at the Prairie Island facility.

In 1994, the state Legislature gave the tribe a legal say in the Prairie Island waste storage issue. At the time, lawmakers approved Xcel's request to store 17 storage casks at Prairie Island. Now, Xcel says in order to keep the site operational until its licenses expire in 2013 and 2014, the facility needs more storage casks.

Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, who is carrying a bill asking for authorization to add more casks, says he's pleased with the agreement. He says he has encouraged both the tribe and Xcel to resolve lingering issues. He says the new agreement should improve his bill's chances.

"They met the charge that I gave them personally, and I think that both sides are going to present their positions in front of the committee and are kind of united on this issue now," Murphy said.

Under the agreement, Xcel would not store nuclear waste from any other facility at the Prairie Island site.

Both Xcel and tribal officials say the agreement does not lessen the need for a permanent repository of nuclear waste.

Nuclear facilities around the country have been financing and pushing for a permanent site for years.

The federal government identified Yucca Mountain, Nev., as the national repository. But the process is slow-going.

Sen. Murphy, who represents the tribe, the workers at the plant, and the community, says a national repository could essentially eliminate the need for storage casks at Prairie Island.

"The federal government has dropped the ball on this issue. They're trying to address it the best they can now, but, quite frankly, not doing a very good job in my opinion," he said.

The tentative agreement between Xcel and the Prairie Island Tribal Council has been months in the making. It still requires ratification by tribal members at a special referendum Apr. 17.

Respond to this story
News Headlines
Related Subjects