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Commission releases plan for nuclear waste

After nearly two years of work, the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future released its final report outlining suggestions for nuclear waste management.

In a 180-page document submitted to the U.S. Energy Secretary at the end of last month, the group lists priorities for managing the more than 65,000 tons and counting of spent nuclear fuel accumulating across the country - including at Prairie Island nuclear plant.

"America's nuclear waste management program is at an impasse," the commission writes in its executive summary. "The Obama Administration's decision to halt work on a repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada is but the latest indicator of a policy that has been troubled for decades and has now all but completely broken down."

At the end of October, Xcel Energy, city of Red Wing and Prairie Island Indian Community leaders shared their thoughts on a draft plan during a Minneapolis workshop.

Many -- including Red Wing Mayor Dennis Egan -- agreed the issue of nuclear waste storage had become too politicized.

"A national repository, which has eluded the nation for 30 years, is technically feasible but has not happened because of a lack of consensus and political will," Jody Poferl, president and CEO of Northern States Power Co.-Minnesota, said in a statement.

Prairie Island Indian Community members also have expressed concerns about the effects of waste piling up at the Prairie Island plant.

"Our community shouldn't be forced to bear the burden of our country's failed nuclear waste policy," Tribal Council member Ron Johnson said at the meeting.

On-site storage was supposed to be a temporary measure but has been in place at Prairie Island for more than a decade. The federal government is required to remove nuclear waste from plants and store it, but hasn't done so.

The final plan shows some shifts from the draft. It centers on eight key elements:

• Developing a "consent-based" process in finding sites for nuclear waste storage;

• Creating a new organization solely to manage and oversee nuclear waste management;

• Assuring access to the funds contributed by ratepayers for waste management;

• Prompting efforts to find a permanent storage site or sites (such as the one originally proposed at Yucca Mountain);

• Encouraging the creation of interim storage sites;

• Support efforts to prepare for large-scale spent nuclear fuel transportation;

• Support continued research and development in the industry.

• Lead international efforts on nuclear safety, security and waste storage.

Poferl said Xcel Energy generally is happy with the commission's recommendations and urged Congress and the president to move quickly on those pieces that need legislative action.

"We stand ready to work toward implementation of those recommendations as quickly as possible," she said of other actions.

She and others also said they will continue to push the federal government toward its responsibility to manage nuclear waste.

Danielle Killey

Danielle Killey covers local government for the South Washington County Bulletin. She has worked as a reporter for other Forum Communications newspapers since 2011. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities with a journalism degree.

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