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Locals get their say on nuclear power plan at national conference

Laura McCarten of Xcel Energy (left), Ron Johnson of the Prairie Island Tribal Council, Red Wing Mayor Dennis Egan and Sen. John Howe speak at a workshop Friday on America's nuclear future.

MINNEAPOLIS -- Local leaders joined people from around the region and country Friday to voice their thoughts on the future of nuclear energy in America.

Gathered in Minneapolis, legislators, city and tribal leaders, corporate representatives and others shared their reactions to a draft report from the president's Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future outlining suggestions for nuclear waste management.

Prairie Island Indian Community and Red Wing officials had the chance to offer perspectives as nearby and host communities to the Prairie Island nuclear plant.

Mayor Dennis Egan said Xcel Energy has been a good partner with the city and the plant has benefits, including providing jobs. But it carries challenges and problems as well, he said.

Egan, like many who spoke Friday, said the issue of nuclear waste storage is key, and has become too politicized.

"It's time to move the storage (issue) out of the political to the practical," he said.

The federal government is required to remove nuclear waste from plants and store it, but hasn't done so.

Stemming from one of many lawsuits on the issue, the federal government agreed this summer to pay Xcel for the costs of storing spent fuel on-site at the utility's Prairie Island and Monticello plants.

"But that doesn't alter our resolve to compel the federal government to keep its promise," Laura McCarten, regional vice president at Xcel, said Friday. "A long-term solution is overdue."

Also, companies, through ratepayers, have contributed to a fund meant to address nuclear waste storage but that hasn't been used for that purpose. McCarten said Xcel ratepayers in the upper Midwest alone pay about $13 million a year to the fund.

Part of the problem is the lack of a long-term storage site.

Many who spoke Friday urged the commission to fight for Yucca Mountain, a proposed long-term nuclear waste storage site in Nevada that is on the verge of being rejected by the federal government.

Sen. John Howe said the commission - which took a neutral stance on Yucca Mountain in its report - should support the project. And Egan said he is concerned about the Nuclear Regulatory Commission studying longer-term on-site storage.

"Yucca Mountain should not be off the table," he said.

But even if Yucca Mountain becomes a repository, more sites will be needed to handle all the spent fuel, said John Kotek, executive director of the Blue Ribbon Commission. And either way, on-site storage likely will continue for decades, Kotek added.

Ron Johnson, assistant secretary/treasurer for the Prairie Island Tribal Council, said he is concerned about the effects of waste piling up at Prairie Island.

"Our community shouldn't be forced to bear the burden of our country's failed nuclear waste policy," he said.

On-site storage was supposed to be a temporary measure, but dry-cask storage has been in place at Prairie Island since the 1990s, he said. Johnson urged the commission to push for results this time.

"We are tired of hearing more promises that will just be broken," he said.