Golden Quill letter: NRC quietly allows threat to grow in our own backyardOne year ago this week, the federal government renewed until 2034 Xcel Energy’s license to operate its nuclear power plant on Prairie Island, the ancestral homeland of the Prairie Island Indian Community. On the heels of that decision, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is now quietly considering whether or not to extend the plant’s license to store highly radioactive nuclear waste onsite for another 40 years – a move the Prairie Island Indian Community opposes.
By: Johnny Johnson, The Republican Eagle
To the Editor:
One year ago this week, the federal government renewed until 2034 Xcel Energy’s license to operate its nuclear power plant on Prairie Island, the ancestral homeland of the Prairie Island Indian Community. On the heels of that decision, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is now quietly considering whether or not to extend the plant’s license to store highly radioactive nuclear waste onsite for another 40 years – a move the Prairie Island Indian Community opposes.
While not opposed to nuclear power as an energy source, we are deeply troubled by the federal government’s broken promises. When onsite nuclear storage was first approved in our state 20 years ago, Minnesotans and the Prairie Island Indian Community were promised it would be temporary – the federal government was legally required to develop a national repository by 1998.
After decades of scientific research and $15 billion in investments by the American people, efforts to create the only nuclear waste storage facility in the United States specifically mandated by federal law, the Yucca Mountain Repository in Nevada, were suspended in 2010. To date, no replacement facility has been identified and all progress made toward developing the site has been halted.
Meantime, the failure to adequately address the storage crisis becomes more threatening to our communities. The number of supposedly “temporary” dry casks stored just 600 yards from our homes along the Mississippi River floodplain has grown from an initial limit of 17 to 29 – with 35 additional casks already approved for use in coming years. If the NRC extends the plant’s storage license for another 40 years, the number of dry casks is expected to reach nearly 100 – enough storage to accommodate more than 2,500 tons of radioactive nuclear waste.
Four more decades of storage could put communities like the Prairie Island Indian Community and Red Wing at considerable risk, exposing all of us to the vulnerabilities of aging facilities, human error, natural disasters and even acts of terrorism. If the NRC grants the storage license extension, not only would the federal government lack any incentive to set aside politics and get a geologic repository like Yucca Mountain back on track, but the storage casks would be stranded onsite for several decades longer than the 20-25 years of “temporary” storage for which they were originally designed and built.
The nuclear industry as a whole has generated a reported 67,500 metric tons of high-level radioactive waste stored at nuclear sites across the country, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute. While the Prairie Island Indian Community faces unique threats given our extremely close proximity to the nuclear storage site and numerous evacuation challenges should a disaster occur, the truth is that millions of Americans in 33 states now live in relative close proximity to one of 63 licensed storage facilities.
Forcing us to store this waste in our backyards and refusing to pick it up for another 40 or more years violates the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. The federal government needs to redouble its efforts to establish a deep geologic repository. A promise is a promise – and in this case, it’s also the law. If we can’t count on the laws of our land, what can we count on?
Johnny Johnson is president of the Prairie Island Tribal Council.