New nukes for Minnesota?

Categories: Environment
Monty Burns is looking to expand his operation.
For a while there, Minnesota was vying to take the lead in pioneering the use of renewable energy. This week, the new Republican Legislature will try to push us in a different direction: building more nuclear plants.

Minnesota already has two nuclear plants. But a decades-old moratorium has kept us from building any more--much to the dismay of industries thirsty for cheap energy and the people who make money building nuclear power plants.

With the GOP majority in the Legislature, the pro-more-nukes lobby is stronger than it's ever been.

In a press conference Friday, House Speaker Kurt Zellers and House Majority Leader Matt Dean said a bill to lift the moratorium on new nuclear power plants will be one of the very first pieces of legislation to be unveiled this week.

Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch said last month that the nuclear issue is about giving the business community what it wants.

True enough--building more nuclear plants has been a major agenda item for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, which spent big money getting Republicans elected in November.

It isn't just Republicans lining up to end the moratorium, either--Congressmen Tim Walz and Eric Paulsen have also expressed support for the expansion of nuclear power in the state.

But there's a reason that Minnesota has backed off new nuclear construction for decades now: Nuclear plants generate waste that remains poisonously radioactive for millennia, and we don't really have any good place to put stuff like that.

The federal plan to create a giant tomb for nuclear waste in Arizona's Yucca Mountain is dead in the water, which leaves Minnesota to store whatever we generate ourselves. We're already doing that with our two existing plants, piling up an ever-increasing number of casks full of hundreds of tons of radioactive material in the Mississippi river floodplain in a facility that was initially supposed to be temporary.

Mark Dayton is on record opposing the construction of new power plants, so this bill could provoke the first major showdown between the governor and the Legislature.

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My Voice Nation Help

Breeder reactors can reprocess waste. If you engineer your reactor-types, input fuel and waste throughput you can produce a theoretically closed cycle when it comes to nuclear material. I'm sure there's tradeoffs, so I defer to any nuclear power engineers. Alternatively I will dust off a few references...

Mike Hicks
Mike Hicks

Yeah, we need to look at nuclear plants again in Minnesota. I'm all for solar and wind energy, but nuclear plants can produce such massive amounts of power that they need to be included in the equation.

As Stephanie said, reprocessing needs to be examined -- not just to deal with the leftovers, but also to keep the fuel supply available as long as possible. If we keep using uranium in the way we have been, it'll run out in the next several decades.

Unfortunately, there appears to be a federal ban on reprocessing in the U.S., so we should work on a (hopefully interim) state storage facility to get the casks at Prairie Island and Monticello moved away from the river. Unlike Yucca Mountain, there is very low risk of earthquakes in Minnesota. I'm not sure if our state's geology is exactly conducive to nuclear fuel storage, but I'm optimistic that we could find someplace in the state to deal with it, and get rid of the need to rely on the federal storage facility.


There is a ban in this state on even DISCUSSING/PLANNING FOR the option of nuclear power. This must be repealed. Typical strategy of the left to ban speech they do not like. These bills will do nothing to approve new power plants. If you want the cleanest burning power plant that is reliable and DISPATCHABLE (on-demand) than nuclear is the way to go. Much of the time the wind does not blow nor does the sun always shine. New nuclear power plants and new renewable plants are not mutually exclusive. If you build more wind/sun plants, you need reliable green backup for when the wind does not blow and the sun does not shine. Which is the majority of the time.

Stephanie Masha Gutmann
Stephanie Masha Gutmann

Every heard of nuclear fuel reprocessing? A little ol' company called Areva, out of France does it with virtually all of France's nuclear waste. It's a technology which lead one expert to say "there actually is no such thing as nuclear waste." He meant because so much of this "waste" is really just fuel that hasn't been squeezed again for a second or third use. Once you're done squeezing, years later, there's very little left. France stores the waste from 30 years of powering its country under the floor of one room. Now China, India and who-knows-who-else is jumping on the reprocessing bandwagon.

Maybe you should dig just a wee bit further into the issue before blathering about Yucca mountain et al. Nuclear plus reprocessing sure beats trying to power your country on coal, gas, wind or solar.


As appealing as reprocessing sounds; there's always a cost associated with recycling. And there's probably still byproducts as with any other reaction. I don't know if reprocessing kills the economics of nuclear power, but at least it's renewable and eliminates a nuclear waste-stream which is potentially vulnerable to environmental release and/or malicious use. Of course, the uranium mining industry will be displeased.

(There's thorium reactors, but that's an aside..)

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