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Nuclear power ban heads to floor

Published (2/11/2011)
By Sue Hegarty
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Debate over lifting the 17-year moratorium on new nuclear power plants could land on the House floor as early as next week.

HF9/ SF4*, sponsored by Rep. Joyce Peppin (R-Rogers) and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch (R-Buffalo), was approved 16-6 Feb. 9 by the House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee after the House language was inserted into the Senate file. The Senate passed it 50-14 Feb. 2.

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

Peppin said nuclear power needs to be one of the options on the table for addressing the state’s future baseload energy needs. Renewable energy alone will not meet anticipated demand in 20 years and current facilities are aging and will need to be replaced, she added.

Rep. Joe Atkins (DFL-Inver Grove Heights), who supported the repeal but said the bill doesn’t go far enough, failed to amend the bill.

In 1982 the federal government promised a national repository for nuclear waste by 1998 and began collecting money for a national nuclear waste fund. Minnesota has paid more than $600 million into the fund. Yet, the federal government recently abandoned plans to open a repository in Nevada. His amendment would have had the state stop making the federal payments and hold the money in escrow in Minnesota instead, until such time as a national storage facility opens.

“Until they keep their end of the bargain, it’s basic breach of contract law. As long as we continue to pay them, I don’t think that they have any motivation to ever get anything done,” Atkins said.

But Terry Pickens, director of nuclear regulatory policy for Xcel Energy, said withholding payment would put the state in breach of its contract with the federal government and could cause the government to deny nuclear waste from Minnesota if and when a national repository opens.

Rep. Denise Dittrich (DFL-Champlin) said repealing the ban could send a message to the federal government that Minnesota supports nuclear power and make the state a target for a national repository after it abandoned Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

Sarah Mancell, policy and regulatory representative for Westinghouse Electric Company in Shoreview and Hutchinson, said the company is designing and building third-generation nuclear power plants in China, Georgia and South Carolina. She said the construction and management of plants provide high-paying jobs and that nuclear waste can be safely managed.

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