The reports of nuclear’s demise were greatly exaggerated

Dry casks at Prairie Island

With relatively little fanfare, Xcel Energy this week released its plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions under goals set by the Legislature last year. It wants to crank up the juice at the Prairie Island nuclear plant and add another 35 “dry casks” to store the nuclear waste.

As cranky as the global warming debate is in general, no other environmental issue in these parts has been more contentious in the last 20 years than the dry casks at Prairie Island.

Check out this description of the 1994 debate from a 2003 story from MPR on how little had changed in the intervening years:

“Even before the first meeting began, 83-year-old State Representative Willard Munger was overheard challenging 44-year-old Senator Steve Novak to a fistfight, because Novak accused Munger of wanting to shut down the Prairie Island plant,” (Capitol reporter Mike) Mulcahy reported. Novak was waste bill’s chief sponsor. As his bill struggled through endless committees, he argued that what NSP needed was time to ease itself away from nuclear energy. He said his bill would buy that time.

Anti-nuclear forces wanted the plant shut down when the utility — then Northern States Power — first asked the Legislature for permission to store the waste on site in 1994. After an administrative law judge denied the request, the Legislature — after a contentious debate — cut a deal to allow 17 casks (the utility wanted 48) with a deal that it would provide 200 megawatts of windpower and 75 megawatts of biomass by the end of 2002.

As soon as a national storage facility for radioactive waste was completed, the agreement said, the Minnesota waste would be sent to the site — Yucca Mountain in Nevada. That was supposed to happen in 1998. It never happened.

In 2003, the Legislature allowed the expansion to 48 casks.

In 1994, the Legislature thought it was setting the stage for the end of nuclear power in Minnesota. It hasn’t turned out that way. The percentage of electricity generated by Prairie Island in 1994 was 20 percent; it generates 20 percent of it now.

But maybe this is an issue with declining passion at the Capitol. At a hearing today on the issue, no legislator asked a question.

  • bsimon

    I still wonder about how smart it is to store nuke waste in the floodplain.

  • James “Guin” McGuinness

    The nuclear industry has always managed to slip and slide under and around all regulations. Thus far, we have been successful in preventing the Yucca Mountain suppository from being opened. This means that the storage must be sent elsewhere, or stored on site. And they are now admitting that there will not be enough space to store all the waste at Yucca Mountain as is now. Which means that when they okay the older nuclear plants for relicensing, then there will be more waste created and more land needed to bury it. This is not even taking into account the new nuclear plants they want to begin constructing. They are looking at sites in the southeast right now, where they want to get licenses to begin construction of new plants in Georgia and elsewhere.

    I have rarely seen the media, or even the politicians, discuss the subsidies involved in supplying nuclear power. If this power is so cheap to produce there is no need for subsidies. If the money that is spent on subsidies, research, etc. for the nuclear industries were spent on true green energy sources, we would already be creating environmentally correct power. No one wants to deal with the radioactive waste, especially the high level waste that is created by nuclear plants. I am currently in Las Vegas, the closest metropolitan area of any size to the proposed Yucca Mountain site. The people here are strongly opposed to having lethal waste transported to, and through, their community. It is insane that people want the benefits of nuclear power, but not the cancer creating waste to deal with.

    It must also be remembered that Hazel O’Leary worked there in the early 90’s. And then she ends up running the Department of Energy. When do they place a person who works, or has worked, in the renewable energy field into a position of power in the Department of Energy? Someone who has worked in the part of the industry that doesn’t produce pollution, either into the air, water, soil or by creating long lasting radioactive waste. The simple fact is that the nuclear, coal and oil lobbyists have far too much money, power and influence. Perhaps if we can curtail the influence of these people, perhaps we can get true environmentally friendly energy sources.


    Shundahai Network

  • Jenn M.

    I worked at the NTS/Yucca Mountain while I was in graduate school. I’m really surprised that they (the environmentalists and the communities of the Mojave desert) have kept the radioactive material out this long. While I was there during the late 90’s it was already booked to take a good deal of Europe’s spent fuel.

  • dwp4401

    I wouldn’t want to be accused of being an apologist for Senator Norvak or Xcel Energy but a point has to be made.

    In 1994 is was widely expected that coal would fill the gap left by the phase-out of nuclear power. It was attractive, as nuclear was, due to its ability to produce electricity at low cost.

    However, the cost of nuclear and coal has risen over the years due to unreasonable regulation. As it stands today, nuclear is the clear choice IF the goal is to be less emissions.

    It is very difficult for any energy company to plan for the future when government keeps moving the goal posts.