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House passes lifting nuclear ban

Published (2/18/2011)
By Sue Hegarty
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Nuclear power discussions could come out of the closet now that the House and Senate have passed legislation to repeal a moratorium to potentially allow additional nuclear power generation in the state.

Sponsored by Rep. Joyce Peppin (R-Rogers) and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch (R-Buffalo), HF9/ SF4* was passed 81-50 as amended by the House Feb. 17. The bill now goes back to the Senate, which passed its version 50-14 Feb. 2.

The bill would remove the ban on allowing the Public Utilities Commission to issue a certificate of need for the construction or expansion of nuclear power facilities.

“We have taken our two workhorses … off the table,” Peppin said of the moratoriums on nuclear- and coal-generated electricity.

Peppin said nuclear power needs to be one of the options for future energy needs but the ban has prevented, or discouraged, stakeholders from having those discussions.

“There is no gag on talking about nuclear energy,” said House Minority Leader Paul Thissen (DFL-Mpls).

Xcel Energy operates nuclear power plants in Monticello and Prairie Island.

Rep. Phyllis Kahn (DFL-Mpls) successfully amended the bill to prohibit the PUC from issuing a certificate of need if the proposer plans to reprocess spent fuel produced by the plant into weapons-grade plutonium either at the plant or elsewhere in the state.

Although federal law prohibits reprocessing of plutonium, which is a byproduct, Kahn said there are some French plants that store plutonium on site, and she feared that doing so in Minnesota would be too dangerous.

Xcel Energy has been allowed, however, to store its radioactive nuclear waste on site until a national repository for the waste opens. Construction and operation of a deep geologic repository is the responsibility of the U.S. Department of Energy, but plans to open a facility in Nevada have been derailed by the current federal administration. Several amendments aimed at dealing with the storage risks failed to be adopted.

Thissen said Kahn’s amendment addressed one of Gov. Mark Dayton’s concerns with the bill, but that he’s also concerned about putting “hardworking families on the hook” for nuclear disasters or escalating costs associated with nuclear power facilities.

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