Can Minnesota talk about new nuclear power while there’s still a ban?

State Senate Republicans and Democrats are at odds over whether nuclear energy can be part of the conversation about Minnesota’s energy future, if the state maintains its ban on building new nuclear power plants.

The Senate Energy and Utilities Finance and Policy committee discussed a bill Thursday that would lift the state’s long-standing ban on new nuclear facilities.

“We’re not going to start digging shovels of dirt and start building anything,” said Sen. David Osmek, R-Mound, the bill’s sponsor who also chairs the committee. “This is to make sure we have the ability to keep this as part of our energy mix, and I think it’s a wise thing to do.”

Osmek said nuclear needs to be allowed back into the discussion as policymakers look for ways to reduce Minnesota’s carbon emissions. Nuclear provides carbon-free electricity, and Gov. Tim Walz said earlier this week that it could be part of his plan to require 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2050.

Minnesota has two nuclear plants in operation — Prairie Island and Monticello, both owned by Xcel Energy. Both have licenses that expire in the 2030s.

The Sierra Club and the Prairie Island Indian Community submitted testimony against lifting the ban.

“Nuclear continues to pose grave risks, is expensive for ratepayers, impacts communities already disproportionately affected by environmental problems and our clean water resources and leaves an incredible burden of toxic pollution for future generations,” said Margaret Levin, state director of the Sierra Club North Star Chapter.

Nuclear power plants generate radioactive waste, and to date, no permanent solution has been identified to deal with the waste, said Shelley Buck, tribal council president for the Prairie Island Indian Community.

“We are the closest community in the country to a nuclear power plant. Every day we bear the burden of our nation’s failed nuclear waste disposal policy,” Buck wrote in a letter to lawmakers.

Lawmakers from both parties acknowledged the community’s concerns, but Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, said there’s no harm in making nuclear an option in Minnesota.

“Lifting this ban is the only way we’re going to have this conversation to look at all carbon-free sources of energy, if that’s what’s important to us,” he said.

But Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, said the ban doesn’t prevent lawmakers and others from talking about nuclear.

“I’d vote for this bill, if voting for this bill meant we would find a solution to nuclear waste,” he said. “I think the bill is symbolic more than anything else. I don’t think it’s going to change anything in the debate here.”

Osmek’s nuclear energy bill and another bill that would remove size limits for hydroelectricity projects to be considered “renewable” were both laid over for possible inclusion in an omnibus bill.

The House Energy Climate Finance and Policy Division will hear Walz’s clean energy proposal on Tuesday.

  • Fred
  • jimhopf

    It’s amazing how many lies the Sierra Club and the tribe can pack into such small paragraphs.

    Nuclear has always posed “grave risks”?? In addition to not having any global warming impact, US nuclear has not caused a single death and has never had any measurable public health impact, over 50+ years of operation. Even (extremely rare) serious accidents cause few if any deaths. Statistics show it to be the safest source of all. Meanwhile, US fossil power generation continually releases massive amounts of pollution, resulting in ~10,000 deaths *annually* along with a huge global warming impact.

    Nuclear is the ONLY energy source that has a “solution” for its wastes. It is the only source (or industry in general) that is required to contain its wastes and rigorously demonstrate that they will remain contained for as long as they remain hazardous. And NRC has concluded that Yucca mountain meets that impeccable, unprecedented standard. The nuclear waste “problem” has always been purely political. Meanwhile, other energy sources and industries just release their wastes/pollution directly into the environment, en masse, or carelessly shallow bury them. That is not a “solution”. And yet, amazingly, people characterize nuclear’s waste “problem” as unsolved, whereas they consider the waste steam issues of other energy sources to be “solved”, or don’t recognize any issue at all. Nuclear’s toxic waste burden on future on future generations is uniquely *small*. Fossil fuels, by comparison, with the mass quantities of toxics and pollution that they’ve released directly into the environment, will have a massive, long-lasting legacy, on public health and the climate, etc..

    As for the “burden” the tribe has faced, what burden? It’s not like the storage casks have ever released anything or that they have had any impact at all on their health. If they lived near a coal plant, on the other hand….. I hear that they’re even receiving payments for the simple presence of the casks (and plant). Finally, it is fossil generators that primarily have dirty polluting power plants in disadvantaged communities, which have harmed those communities health, not nuclear.

    • garthpool

      You again?

      • Jag_Levak

        And you. Aren’t you the guy that claimed nuclear power emits more CO2 than per kWh than coal, and that nuclear power is the greatest generator of CO2 in history?

        • garthpool

          ‘Three of General Electric’s most experienced nuclear engineers quit publicly on February 2 [1976], proclaiming that atomic power – “a technological monster, and it is not clear who, if anyone, is in control,” one called it in his resignation letter – ought to be banned. A few weeks later a plant safety coordinator at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission quit, saying his recommendations had been ignored and his bosses were evading their responsibility “by not telling the public and power licensing boards all the facts we know.”’ The Invisible Bridge, Rick Perlstein [2014]

          It has gotten much worse since then. Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima. Nuclear power is the final insanity. Over the next decade or two global heating will destroy our civilization. All over the world the electrical grids will fail. This will result in a catastrophe the like of which has never been seen on Earth. The nuke plants and their spent fuel will melt down and explode, spreading deadly radiation throughout the world for the next billion years.

          You want a hellish, black, dead, radiating pile of rocks? Keep promoting nuclear power. Actually the damage has already been done. We have built enough of these doomsday machines to guarantee the end of life on Earth. It is too late to change course.

          About nuclear power and CO2, I am not surprised that you came up with a lot of nonsense. Facts are deadly to the brainwashed members of a cult. They will say anything to protect their fantasy world. I explained the situation well enough on the MIT website:

          https://www.technologyreview.com/s/610457/at-this-rate-its-going-to-take-nearly-400-years-to-transform-the-energy-system/?set=#comments

          • Roger Blomquist

            Garthpool, do your homework. Nuclear is by far the safest form of electricity generation. It is so clean that you can seal over 100 people in a steel tube with a reactor for months at a time. I know, because I was a reactor operations supervisor on a nuclear submarine. You need a million pounds of coal, gas, oil, or biomass to produce the same amount of energy that you get from a pound of uranium. (And the energy density of wind and solar is far, far less than solar.) The tiny amount of fuel required is why we can afford to (and actually do) contain used nuclear fuel indefinitely in the welded shut metal tubes that are originally inserted into the reactor. It is inherently cleaner than every other electricity generating technology.

          • garthpool

            Roger, did your boat ever tie up next to the USS Fulton in New London 1969-71? We might have crossed paths. I rigged equipment and weapons in and out of those boats and worked in the repair shop.

            After that I did enough homework to earn a degree in mechanical engineering and a professional engineering license. I worked in the energy industry for forty years, but never with nukes. I knew better then and I know better now.

            Talk about safety. You know what happened at the Davis-Besse plant in Ohio in 2002. The only thing that prevented a catastrophe was a 3/8” SS liner in the core, and it was about ready to give way when the problem was finally admitted. “Two former employees and one former contractor were indicted for statements made in multiple documents and one videotape, over several years, for hiding evidence that the reactor pressure vessel was being corroded by boric acid. The maximum penalty for the three is 25 years in prison. The indictment mentions that other employees also provided false information to inspectors, but does not name them.”

            Do submarine reactors have more safety systems than civilian reactors? I would like to know. In any case, the guys who earn the Dolphin are naturally and professionally going to be far more careful with their reactors than the civilians are with theirs. You must not equate civilian nuke safety with submarine safety.

            But nuke plant safety during operation is just one of a multitude of subjects for debate about nuclear power. I can see that this discussion is just getting started, so I will leave off for now.

          • Jag_Levak

            “You know what happened at the Davis-Besse plant in Ohio in 2002.”

            Nobody is talking about building a plant like that in Minnesota. If they do add new nuclear at some point, it’s going to be with a new design–maybe even one that uses liquid fuel so that it cannot melt down under any circumstances.

          • garthpool

            I am a lot more worried about the reactor operators than I am about the reactor design.

          • Jag_Levak

            The reactor design limits the worst that reactor operators can do.

          • garthpool

            Even if that is true,it does not apply to the vast majority of nuke plants now operating.

          • Jag_Levak

            The majority of plants now operating don’t apply to any future new nuclear plants that might be built in Minnesota.

          • garthpool

            Future plants in the US are a fantasy. There will be none, because nuclear power is far too expensive and because most of us are sane enough to know that they are far too dangerous, no matter how they are designed and operated.

            No doubt other countries will build more nukes. That will just show how foolish they are. They will have no idea what they getting themselves and the rest of us into.

            Even if the claim that nuclear power is carbon free was not false, it would be impossible to build enough nuke plants to have any noticeable effect on atmospheric CO2. There isn’t enough money and there isn’t enough time.

            Even if there were no more catastrophic failures during the operating life of any reactor ever again, the radioactive waste they produce should have been reason enough to make nuclear power illegal throughout the world. That waste will be deadly for a longer time than the human race has been around. It is a problem we cannot solve, and because of it we won’t be around much longer.

            It is natural to imagine the future we want, but we are not going to get it. It is too late.

          • Jag_Levak

            “Future plants in the US are a fantasy. There will be none, because nuclear power is far too expensive and because most of us are sane enough to know that they are far too dangerous, no matter how they are designed and operated.”

            It is unlikely we will see new builds for old-tech reactors in the U.S. They are not market competitive, and yes, part of their high cost is due to requirements to assuage the public perception of danger. But I’ve only been seeing public interest build for molten salt reactors. Most people seem to grasp quite easily why liquid fuels cannot melt down, no matter how they are operated. And if the new designs succeed in delivering better economics, I expect public support will continue to grow.

            “Even if the claim that nuclear power is carbon free was not false,”

            I think it is currently classed as low-carbon (same as solar PV and wind power).

            “it would be impossible to build enough nuke plants to have any noticeable effect on atmospheric CO2. There isn’t enough money and there isn’t enough time.”

            If the reactors are market-competitive, investment money will materialize, as it usually does whenever there is a good return to be made. And the build rate will be a function of demand. Dozens of nuclear development teams see a market opportunity here, and even with the regulatory reform task not yet sorted, investors are already sinking hundreds of millions of dollars into these ventures.

            “Even if there were no more catastrophic failures during the operating life of any reactor ever again, the radioactive waste they produce should have been reason enough to make nuclear power illegal throughout the world.”

            Liquid fuel molten salt reactors will not produce spent fuel assemblies. Molten salt fast reactors are being designed to consume spent fuel. Also depleted uranium. And some of the waste from weapons production. And surplus or old bomb fuel.

            “That waste will be deadly for a longer time than the human race has been around.”

            Spent fuel would be deadly thousands of years from now if you eat it, or drop a ton of it on your head. So far as radiation goes, however, it only gets safer with the passage of time, and it’s already safe enough to have a superb safety record.

            “It is a problem we cannot solve, and because of it we won’t be around much longer.”

            If we consume the spent fuel in reactors, that sure looks a lot like a solution. And even if we don’t, how are you imagining it could cause our demise?

            “It is natural to imagine the future we want, but we are not going to get it. It is too late.”

            We won’t get to have a perfect future. But if we do some smart work now, it can be less bad than it would be otherwise.

          • garthpool

            Confessions of a Rogue Nuclear Regulator–A Review by Glen Estill

            Gregory Jaczko was an outsider. He wasn’t from the industry. But somehow he was appointed to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, eventually becoming its Chair. His 2019 book, Confessions of a Rogue Nuclear Regulator, exposes the decision- making processes used in regulating the most toxic substance on earth. It is scary stuff.

            The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is charged with ensuring the safety of nuclear production in the United States. But are they arms length from industry? No. In many cases, the industry tells the regulator what they plan to do. Is safety the paramount concern? No. The profit motive is alive and well, and things that add cost are fiercely resisted. Does the industry learn from mistakes, like Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, or Fukushima? No. The industry concludes that it can’t happen here, with our designs. And little changes.

            Especially disturbing is the influence of politicians on the process of ensuring nuclear safety. We would like to think that decisions on nuclear safety are decided by the best engineering minds, based on the best technical knowledge they have. But the influence of powerful politicians, to curry favour with their donors, or to protect local jobs, shows that technical factors play second fiddle, and the process is driven by short term political considerations. And don’t think political interference is a US problem alone. After all, Canada’s former Prime Minister fired the chief nuclear regulator, when she refused to allow the Maple reactors to operate in what she considered an unsafe condition. Political interference in nuclear safety happens around the world.

            Nuclear reactors require backup generators, to ensure the cooling of the reactor can continue, even if the electrical grid is knocked out. He tells the tale of the nuclear plant at Fort Calhoun, Nebraska, which when threatened by flooding in the Missouri river, used sandbags to prevent damage to the essential back up generator. Thank goodness the upstream dams on the river held. Can’t happen here? Think again.

            Mr. Jaczko makes is crystal clear. There will be future nuclear disasters. It is the nature of the business. And especially when the regulator is unduly influenced by politicians, and the industry.

            The books final two sentences sum up the conclusion. “I started my life as a scientist in awe of humans’ ability to see the genius of nature and harness it. I left my job as a nuclear regulator humbled at what nature can do to turn our technological inventions against us.”

            This book is a must read for all who regulate, or participate in the electricity generation business.

            Jaczko, Gregory. Confessions of a Rogue Nuclear Regulator, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2019. 208 pages. ISBN13: 9781476755762. $26.00 cloth. 5 x 0.7 x 8 inches. 9.6 oz.

            http://www.wind-works.org/cms/index.php?id=690&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=5327&cHash=eca27c191c7858e3536634059fd3bdfc

          • falstaff77

            The evidence from China, Korea is that existing light water reactors are competitive when built as a common design, in volume, and without malevolent regulation. New designs, built once every thirty years is not competitive.

          • Jag_Levak

            “The evidence from China, Korea is that existing light water reactors are competitive when built as a common design, in volume, and without malevolent regulation.”

            This is the approach Shellenberger advocates for making existing nuclear competitive. But this is not an approach that will produce a reactor that is competitive in the open power market. This is a formula for complete displacement of the open power market, replacing it with a government-dominated market. The way you get a uniform design is to eliminate alternate designs somehow–which means killing competition. That means the government steps in and mandates that all reactors will be of a certain design (hoping they have the wisdom and integrity to pick a really good one–instead of making an ignorant, or expedient, or politically corrupt choice), or it means the government taking over production directly and freezing out alternate builders. And to get to the large number of sustained orders needed to build proficiency means the government becomes a monopoly customer, either by fiat or by swamping out other customers. And existing light-water reactors were designed for a baseload-heavy, regulation-heavy energy market–which is a model the U.S. has only been moving away from.

            You foresee some political headwinds that new reactors designs will have to face, but where is the political pragmatism for this model? Who is its constituency? Do you think conservatives will get jazzed over the prospect of a big-government takeover of an entire industry? Do you think they will like the idea of stamping out entrepreneurship, killing competition, and basically handing the opportunity to take the lead in innovation to other countries? Do you think those on the left will buy the argument that we should increase the number of large, inflexible, baseload reactors that don’t get along well with wind and solar, that we should have more of the kind of reactors which can melt down, and that we should increase the rate of spent fuel production–but don’t worry, we’ll achieve cost savings by sheer numbers and by adopting more industry-friendly regulations? What block of America is going to agree that we should operate more like China?

            I’ve come to a level of acceptance for old-tech nuclear that I would not have thought possible seven years ago, and I recognize I had absorbed a lot of misinformation and had many misconceptions and it turned out to be not as bad as I imagined. But the way I came to that recognition was by first going through the experience of seeing what the possibilities were for very different ways of doing nuclear power. They didn’t just change my understanding of facts and figures. They fundamentally changed my perceptions, because they changed my attitude. They gave me a real sense of hope, and from what I’ve seen, they’ve had the same infectious, optimistic effect on many others, across the political spectrum. Old-tech nuclear never would have had that effect. It was only losing support. And now I think it’s not going to be able to capitalize on the new wellspring of enthusiasm connected to new kinds nuclear.

            And I think it was GRLCowan who made a point that had occurred to me but I had never really developed. New nuclear provides a face-saving way for old-line nuclear opponents to feel vindicated for all their work against old nuclear. It offers them the potential to get back on the side of science and engineering, and they can even congratulate themselves that breaking the previous nuclear industry created the space for the new nuclear designs to sprout. Without this possibility of embracing a new way forward, I can’t imagine any but a trivial minority of them letting go of the all the energy and the years they have invested into opposing old-tech nuclear. Even their rising feelings of urgency to do something about climate change are more likely to increase their opposition to old nuclear because of its incompatibility with wind and solar. And for the ones who are on the fence but interested in the new designs, I don’t think they are going to want to see them get crushed before we even get a chance to see what they can do.

            So I don’t see a political way forward for the autocratic top-down Shellenberger model based on existing nuclear. I think the only viable future for nuclear is a bottom-up technological revolution leading to more kinds and sizes of nukes that can be seen as safe, clean, truly market-competitive, flexible, and friendly with other power sources. And maybe that’s merely my perception, but if enough people have a similar perception, that’s all it takes to create a political reality.

          • garthpool

            Here is an excerpt from a book review that everyone should read and ponder:

            “Gregory Jaczko was an outsider. He wasn’t from the industry. But somehow he was appointed to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, eventually becoming its Chair. His 2019 book, Confessions of a Rogue Nuclear Regulator, exposes the decision- making processes used in regulating the most toxic substance on earth. It is scary stuff.”

            http://www.wind-works.org/cms/index.php?id=590&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=5327&cHash=eca27c191c7858e3536634059fd3bdfc

          • Jag_Levak

            ‘Three of General Electric’s most experienced nuclear engineers quit publicly on February 2 [1976],”

            Over the BWR Mk 1 containment design. Guess what. If Minnesota does opt for new nuclear in the future, it isn’t going to be that kind of reactor.

            “It has gotten much worse since then. Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima.”

            Any possible new nuclear in Minnesota isn’t going to be any of those designs either. (Although saying it won’t be the Fukushima design is redundant with saying it won’t be the BWR Mk. 1 design.)

            “Nuclear power is the final insanity.”

            Some ways of doing nuclear power are plainly too risky (uncontained Soviet-era RBMK reactors for example). The existence of some bad ways of doing nuclear power does not mean there can be no good ways. Anything can be done badly.

            “Over the next decade or two global heating will destroy our civilization.”

            I’m guessing you’ve been marinating at Guy McPherson’s site. This is way out of all serious mainstream projections.

            “All over the world the electrical grids will fail. This will result in a catastrophe the like of which has never been seen on Earth. The nuke plants and their spent fuel will melt down and explode, spreading deadly radiation throughout the world for the next billion years.”

            1) Highly unlikely there there would be such a mass of meltdowns 2) if you look at the four biggest, baddest power reactor meltdowns in history, the radiation only reached potentially deadly levels close to the plants, and 3) the radiation levels subsided quickly. Look at the wildlife and lush plant growth around Chernobyl today. Check out the fish thriving in the Chernobyl power plant cooling pond.

            “You want a hellish, black, dead, radiating pile of rocks? Keep promoting nuclear power.”

            All nuclear power combined doesn’t have nearly enough potential energy to return Earth to its original state. (lifeless, radioactive, black rocks)

            “Actually the damage has already been done. We have built enough of these doomsday machines to guarantee the end of life on Earth. It is too late to change course.”

            That may be how it looks in the magical world of your alternate reality bubble, but here on the outside, there is no science or physics to support that.

            “About nuclear power and CO2, I am not surprised that you came up with a lot of nonsense.”

            Actually, I was referring to your nonsense about nuclear power and CO2.

            “Facts are deadly to the brainwashed members of a cult.”

            People in alternate-reality cults have their own alternative facts. Mainstream facts and science are simply disregarded or vigorously denounced.

            “They will say anything to protect their fantasy world.”

            People who live in alternate-reality cults don’t realize it. To them, everyone on the outside is deluded and living in a fantasy world. So you and I have symmetrical views of each other. The difference between us it that I’m not trapped. I know what your cult looks like from the inside because I used to be a member, and I made the transition out based on evidence and reason. And I can change my view again, but it will require stronger evidence than for the reality I inhabit now.

            “I explained the situation well enough on the MIT website”

            You recited apologetics and articles of faith (I suspect, more than anything, to try to bolster your own beliefs). If they had any basis in reality, then countries that went strongly for nuclear should have seen their CO2 footprint increase, not shrink–as they all did.

          • rwburden

            You want a hellish, black, dead, radiating pile of rocks? Keep promoting nuclear power. Actually the damage has already been done. We have built enough of these doomsday machines to guarantee the end of life on Earth. It is too late to change course.

            Typical Luddite/eco-terrorist hysteria. None of the nuclear accidents you mention come anywhere close to producing a disaster such as you describe. The only doomsday machine is a political one, such as the British Empire, which seeks to control human behavior and control the human population like a rancher controls a herd of cattle. That’s the reason why the British Empire promotes the environmentalist movement, promotes terrorism and drug addiction, and perverted ideas like sex education and gender identity, to render people unfit to govern themselves and to destabilize those governments that are effective in developing the intellectual potential of the people. The hysteria about anthropogenic climate change and radiation-phobia are part of the overall British imperial counter-culture strategy to turn mankind into a stupefied, energy-starved, controllable herd of Jacobins!

            When people have political freedom, the power of technology serves the people, and the people are continually discovering new physical principles and incorporating them in new, more powerful technologies. With any technology, or without any technology, lethal accidents, or just plain deadly misfortune, are possible, but only a brainwashed or acutely sociopathic person would assert that we’re better off without our most powerful technologies. Nuclear fission is clearly the most powerful technology we now fully possess. It puts more power into our little hands than anything else, and with that power, we can manage more hazards and overcome more challenges to our existence than with any weaker technology. It allows the human population to keep growing while providing the material basis for a rich intellectual life for a larger part of the population than ever before, which can only result in an acceleration of scientific progress, leading to mastery of nuclear rocket propulsion, nuclear fusion, and on to colonize the galaxy! IF we stop the real doomsday machine, the British Empire, from shutting down our nukes!

  • rwburden

    The Sierra Club doesn’t want the public to know that, contrary to Cass Sunstein, Dr. Benjamin Spock, B.F. Skinner, Bertrand Russell, the Huxleys, Charles Darwin, and others who argue that we are just animals, humans are intelligent enough to build breeder reactors and use our vast inventory of spent nuclear fuel, which is still about 97% uranium or plutonium or still heavier atoms, to breed new fissile material, and cause it to fission, until all the uranium-or-heavier is gone. The split atoms, having lost most of the energy that was in the original fissile atom, will have shorter and less energetic decay chains, meaning less radiological hazard for a shorter time.

    Of course, once the public takes the first step, there is no stopping them! Next they’ll be mining the fission products for strontium-90 to make glow-in-the-dark paint, and various other fission products for other uses, because they will come to understand that a radiological hazard is no more apocalyptic than a chemical hazard, a fire hazard, a biological hazard, or the hazards that we face in the wilderness from snake bites, insect bites, beasts with fangs, etc.

    • Roger Blomquist

      And we have already done so. See Argonne’s Experimental Breeder Reactor II in Idaho.