Top stories 2009: No. 5, Plans for nuclear plant expansion move forwardNuclear energy remained a hot-button issue this year as Xcel Energy’s applications to increase electrical generating capacity and waste storage at the nuclear plant were approved.
Nuclear energy remained a hot-button issue this year as Xcel Energy’s applications to increase electrical generating capacity and waste storage at the nuclear plant were approved.
Last month the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approved Xcel’s plans to house 35 more dry storage casks at the plant and implement a power uprate.
The PUC’s decision on the additional cask storage is stayed through the Minnesota Legislature’s regular 2010 session to allow lawmakers the opportunity to review it.
Progress also was made this year on Xcel’s application before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to extend the plant’s operating life 20 more years. Unit 1’s current operating license will expire in August 2013 and Unit 2’s in October 2014.
The plant will shut down if the NRC does not approve Xcel’s application. The NRC is expected to make a decision sometime next year.
Members of the Prairie Island Indian Community and a local citizens group spent 2009 attending hearings and voicing concerns about the plant’s continued operation.
Both groups argue that the plant should not be relicensed until safety and environmental concerns are addressed and a national waste repository is opened.
“We will continue to fight these issues,” Johnny Johnson, Prairie Island Tribal Council treasurer, said earlier this month during a tribal swearing-in ceremony in which newly elected members vowed to keep battling Xcel’s expansion plans.
City of Red Wing officials also had concerns about Xcel’s applications to increase spent nuclear waste and up the plant’s electrical generating capacity.
The city asked the PUC to require Xcel to make payments specifically for the city’s public safety operations.
Local officials want money for the city’s fire and police departments because they would be the first outside agency on scene during an emergency. They would also be responsible for evacuating the city.
The PUC did not require Xcel make payments to the city and told local officials to take the issue up with the Legislature.
Xcel officials say they value their relationship with both parties and will continue to work with them next year.
“We appreciate our relationship with the Red Wing and Prairie Island Indian communities and remain committed in the new year to continuing the dialogue with each of them regarding their concerns,” said Pam Gorman, Xcel Energy community relations manager for the Red Wing area.
“We also remain committed to persuading the federal government, which is mandated by law and obligated under contract, to remove used fuel from our nuclear plant sites in Minnesota.”
Action will pick up again next month when the public comment period ends on the NRC’s draft supplemental environmental impact statement regarding the application to relicense the plant.
Here is a timeline of events anticipated in 2010, according to Xcel Energy officials:
• First quarter (January through March) — The NRC-appointed Atomic Safety and Licensing Board will make a decision on contentions put forward by the Prairie Island Indian Community .
• Second quarter (April through June) — The NRC will finalize a supplemental environmental impact statement.
• Third quarter (July through September) — The NRC could decide whether to renew Prairie Island’s operating license (if no hearings are necessary); Atomic Safety and Licensing Board will hold hearings if Prairie Island Indian Community’s contentions are not resolved.
• Fourth quarter (October through December) —The NRC will decide on Prairie Island operating license renewal (if hearings are necessary).