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Public weighs in on possible changes

In Charlotte Eastin's family, grandma was known as "Leadfoot Jessie."

Grandma loved to drive. But the older she got, the less safe she became, Eastin explained Wednesday at a public meeting regarding possible changes at the Prairie Island nuclear plant.

So Eastin and her family told grandma it was time to take her license away before she hurt anyone, including herself.

Eastin, a Lake City resident, thinks that time has come for the nuclear plant.

"The nuclear plant is our 'Leadfoot Jessie,'" Eastin said. "We as a community have to say, 'We're sorry. We need to take your license away before the truly unthinkable happens.'"

The nuclear plant is seeking state permits to store more spent nuclear waste and increase its electrical generating capacity by 164 megawatts.

Officials also have filed a federal application to renew the plant's operating license for up to 20 more years.

City, county and Prairie Island Indian Community leaders attended the meeting, one of many chances for the public to weigh in on the possible changes.

All but one of the 14 people who spoke directed concern - and sometimes criticism - at nuclear plant officials.

"You don't need to have any more applications to renew it," said Prairie Island resident Elizabeth Bear Heels. "I say, 'No more.' That's enough."

Nuclear plant and Xcel Energy officials touted the possible changes as environmental and financial pluses for local residents as well as energy customers across the state.

The power increase will hold utility rates down and help Xcel Energy operate existing fossil fuel plants less and less, thus reducing carbon emissions, said Brian Zelanke, manager of regulatory affairs for Xcel.

If approved, the "uprate" or increase in generation will occur in two phases - Unit 1 will be complete in 2012, Unit 2 in 2015.

All modifications necessary for the uprate will occur within the existing plant, according to official documents.

Several members of Communities United for Responsible Energy said have vowed to ensure a citizen advisory taskforce is formed to address the proposed generating capacity increase.

The other proposed change, up to 35 more storage casks at the nuclear plant, also had its critics.

Officials said the above-ground units would be placed next to existing casks, which are as close as 600 yards to some tribal members' homes.

"They didn't ask us, they didn't get our approval," tribal member Doreen Hagen said referring to Xcel's initial permit to build the nuclear plant. "That's why I'm here telling you, 'No more casks.'"

Zelanke said he's hopeful that fewer than 35 casks are needed. He said officials are closely watching developments unfold regarding a proposed nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nev.

The Minnesota Public Utility Commission has the final say regarding the power uprate and increase in spent fuel storage.

Public comments will be accepted through Oct. 7. They can be sent to Bill Storm via e-mail at bill.storm@state.mn.us or by mail to: Bill Storm, Minnesota Department of Commerce, 85 Seventh Place E. Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55101.

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