Nuclear cities back state waste controlST. PAUL — Minnesota cities hosting nuclear power plants and some legislators are tired of federal officials’ refusal to pick up the waste as they promised decades ago.
By: Don Davis, Worthington Daily Globe
ST. PAUL — Minnesota cities hosting nuclear power plants and some legislators are tired of federal officials’ refusal to pick up the waste as they promised decades ago.
“If you had a garbage man who didn’t show up for 28 years, would you continue to pay the bill?” Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, asked Monday as he told members of his Minnesota House Commerce and Labor Committee about his proposal to divert money now going to the federal government for nuclear waste storage and use it in Minnesota instead.
Atkins’ plan would take the nearly $14 million Xcel Energy now sends the federal government annually for nuclear storage and divide it two ways.
Half would be saved for cleanup when nuclear waste no longer is stored in Minnesota; half would fund a new commission to manage nuclear waste and help local communities pay for power plants’ public safety needs.
Minnesota’s nuclear power plants are near Red Wing and Monticello, with radioactive waste being stored near the reactors.
Vice President Laura McCarten of Xcel said the company fears that if the Atkins plan is enacted, it would end up costing Minnesota customers. For one thing, she said, if the federal government ever does establish a nuclear waste dump, the Atkins plan could force “Minnesota to go it alone,” costing more money than if the state’s waste went to a federally sponsored location.
Nearly $600 million already sent to the federal nuclear waste program could be lost, McCarten added. Also, she warned, a pending request to extend the life of the two Prairie Island reactors could be at risk.
Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, said the House proposal likely would result in a federal lawsuit against Minnesota.
The Obama administration says it no longer is considering putting nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain, a Nevada site opposed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of that state. However, Washington continues to collect money from utilities for storage programs.
Atkins said if Yucca Mountain is off the table, Minnesota needs to take care of nuclear waste on its own.
Red Wing and the adjoining Prairie Island Indian Community are the most affected by nuclear waste, with 625 tons stored next to two reactors now. By 2045, 2,450 tons of radioactive waste may be stored there.
Council member Lisa Bayley told Atkins’ committee that Red Wing is not prepared to become a long-term nuclear waste storage site.
“We need a plan to deal with the storage and protection of that waste,”
“It is absolutely essential” that state officials push the federal government to open a national storage facility, she added.
Under Atkin’s plan, some of the $14 million a year would flow to Red Wing, Prairie Island Indian Community and Monticello as hosts to nuclear reactors. However, Murphy angrily denied the need for such funds.
Murphy, who is retiring from the Senate at the end of his term, said the city last year only spent $64,000 on public safety needs related to Xcel Energy’s two nuclear reactors, so money that Atkins’ bill provides is not needed.
Under current law, the city will receive $9 million a year more in property taxes than a city without such a large utility plant. Red Wing now gets $2.4 million more.
Murphy saved his strongest words for the Red Wing mayor, one of several local officials who support an increased utility property tax for communities hosting major utility plants.
“This is just Mayor John Howe’s method to extort $9 million out of Xcel,” Murphy told reporters following Atkins’ meeting.
Howe did not directly address Murphy’s comment, but said: “I will let the broad coalition of concerned officials, all of whom believe this issue needs to be addressed, speak for itself.”
Howe added: “I am very pleased that there is a broad and growing coalition of local and state elected officials, both Democrats and Republicans, who strongly feel that the inaction of the federal government to complete Yucca Mountain compels Minnesota to address the responsibilities of storing nuclear waste in our state.”
Victoria Winfrey, Prairie Island Tribal Council president, said the nuclear waste sits 600 yards from homes, and that until the federal government offers a solution, the state must step up its efforts to protect people from the waste.
Murphy said that most of Atkins’ bill is not needed. An existing legislative commission could handle any waste storage issues. And, he added, plenty of safeguards already are in place.
“This is a political issue, not a scientific issue,” Murphy said.
Murphy, an ex-Xcel employee, said President Barack Obama took Yucca Mountain out of play because of Reid’s re-election campaign, but the storage plan likely will be restored after the election.
“This is a bill in search of a problem,” the senator added.
Davis is employed by Forum Communications Co., which owns the Daily Globe.