Minnesota Senate repeals nuclear power moratorium

  • Article by: TOM MEERSMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 2, 2009 - 9:56 PM

Proponents said the state needs to consider building new nuclear plants. The House hasn't voted on the issue.

Prairie Island nuclear plant
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Xcel Energy owns and operates the Prairie Island nuclear plant.

Photo: Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

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State legislators have renewed the fight about whether more nuclear power plants should be allowed in Minnesota. The Senate voted 42-24 on Thursday to repeal the state moratorium on any new nuclear plants passed in 1994. The action came after 40 minutes of discussion on an amendment to an energy bill.

Those in favor of removing the moratorium said that Minnesota needs to be open to the possibility of new nuclear plants, especially since the alternative of coal-fired power produces carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming. Sen. Steve Dille, R-Dassel, introduced the amendment and argued that nuclear power is also needed because it's cheap.

"This is one of the options we need to have on the table in order to meet our energy needs for the future in a cost-effective way, and also to take into consideration the climate change issues that we are facing," Dille said.

No utility is planning to build a nuclear plant in Minnesota, but Sen. Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said that's because the 15-year-old ban has inhibited any plans.

"I don't think we can have the appropriate discussions we need to have until we remove the moratorium," she said. "It's an easy first step." Koch represents the area where Xcel Energy operates the Monticello nuclear plant, about 45 miles northwest of the Twin Cities.

Opponents, including Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, said it's wrong to suggest nuclear power is clean or cheap.

"Yes, it has no carbon emissions and that's a good thing," Anderson said. "But highly toxic radioactive waste is a byproduct of this nuclear power, and we don't know what to do with it."

Anderson said the nuclear industry promised in 1994 that a permanent national burial site for nuclear wastes was just around the corner, but the issue is still far from being resolved. Until it is, she said, it's irresponsible to build more nuclear plants and produce more waste. Instead, said Anderson, the state should focus on encouraging more home-grown renewable energy such as wind.

Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon, DFL-Duluth and chair of the energy, utilities, technology and communications committee, said it's premature to repeal the moratorium. "It's been a topic that has not been addressed very thoroughly for a long time in the Senate," she said. "There is new technology and there is more information that needs to be uncovered."

The House has not voted on the issue, but its energy committee rejected a bill last week that would have removed the ban.

Besides Monticello, Xcel owns and operates Prairie Island in Red Wing, the state's only other nuclear plant.

The utility is working to extend the federal licenses and increase the power produced by both plants, but it has no plans for any new nuclear facilities.

Tom Meersman • 612-673-7388

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Prairie Island nuclear plant