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Progress on spent nuclear fuel storage? Local officials say they hope so

Prairie Island nuclear plant. File photo

Local officials said they are optimistic that a bill expected to be considered this week in the U.S. House of Representatives could mean progress for establishing a repository for the country's spent nuclear fuel, including radioactive waste stored at Prairie Island nuclear plant.

Red Wing Mayor Sean Dowse said Tuesday the city supports efforts to get the House bill passed and pave the way for a Senate version. The city intends to craft a letter to the state's congressional delegation ahead of a floor vote.

"We're going to be working to help get as many yes votes as we can," Dowse said.

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The Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2018 sponsored by U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Illinois, calls for the U.S. Department of Energy to initiate a program to take ownership of and temporarily store spent nuclear fuel, including authorization to enter into agreements with private parties for interim storage facilities.

The bill also reaffirms the federal government's commitment to proceed with the licensing review for a permanent disposal repository at Yucca Mountain in the Nevada desert. Provisions would permanently withdraw land at the site for a repository and authorize surrounding infrastructure development.

Dowse and City Council member Evan Brown attended the 2017 conference of the Nuclear Waste Strategy Coalition, an organization of utilities, regulators and policy experts calling on the Department of Energy to honor commitments to remove and dispose spent nuclear fuel. The organization has urged federal lawmakers to appropriate funds for completion of the Yucca Mountain licensing review, a pilot program for consolidated interim storage and to prepare for transporting nuclear waste from sites around the country.

Brown said he does not expect the complicated Yucca Mountain licensing process to be completed in the near future, though consolidated interim storage sites proposed in Texas and New Mexico present an opportunity to advance the discussion on nuclear waste management.

"It is a problem for our entire country," Brown said of spent nuclear fuel. "We all have a reason to want to try to solve this problem."

Minnesota legislation

State lawmakers also have taken up the issue of nuclear waste this legislative session. A bill in the Minnesota House of Representatives would appropriate $2 million to Xcel Energy to study transporting spent nuclear fuel from the Prairie Island and Monticello nuclear plants and help ensure the radioactive material would qualify for an interim storage facility.

There were 1,441 metric tons of uranium stored in Minnesota at the end of 2017, according statistics compiled by the Nuclear Energy Institute, the policy organization of the nuclear technology industry.

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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