Tuesday, November 17, 2009

More Nuclear Waste at Prairie Island

Posted by Kirk Mona
Xcel energy got approval last Thursday from the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to store more nuclear waste at their Prairie Island Nuclear facility. I have some mixed feelings about this but mostly they are negative. Back in the 1990s I was in high school and just starting out as an environmental activist. I remember telling my American History professor that I was going to miss class because I was going to go to the state capital for a march, rally and chance to talk to my state representative. There was a big public demonstration against then plant owners Northern States Power when they wanted to install the first round of dry cask storage of nuclear waste on site. I remember my teacher said something to the effect that I would learn a whole lot more about America by going to the march than being in his class so I should go. He then proceeded to give me all kinds of advice on protest marches. It seemed he had some experience himself from back in the day. His biggest piece of advice? Don't get pushed to the front. The people in the front are always the ones who end up having to face the police if things turn ugly. He said, watch for where the organizers are, they are always smart enough to lead from behind.

The reason I was heading to the capital was that Northern States Power (the then owner of Prairie Island) wanted to store nuclear waste outside their facility. Their holding area inside was almost full and they would have to shut down the plant if they could not get more storage. The waste from the storage inside the plant was supposed to be shipped off to a government national repository years earlier but one had never been built. NSP was asking for temporary storage until the Yucca Mountain storage facility in Nevada could be completed. Even as a high school student I could see that the Yucca Mountain facility would never be ready in the optimistic time frame they proposed. The waste "temporarily" stored at Prairie Island has been there for over ten years now and there is no reason to believe it will ever be moved. Yucca Mountain is dead and it now looks like waste will never be stored there.

There is a push right now for more nuclear power as a solution to global warming. Even if we assume we can safely run a nuclear power plant (which is a big if) we still have the problem of how do we safely store the radioactive waste for millions of years. Modern humans only evolved somewhere between 250,000 and 400,000 years ago. Isn't it arrogant to think we can safely store something for millions of years?

The point is moot however because we have already generated huge quantities of highly radioactive fuel waste and it needs to be stored. I'm still not convinced storing high level radioactive waste ON AN ISLAND in the Mississippi, a river that has moved and meandered hundreds of times since it was created, is a good plan. Heck, as little as 10,000 years ago the Prairie Island site was under a mile of ice when glaciers covered Minnesota. I'm interested to see if the law can be changed so that commercial waste can be stored in the WIPP.

Until we have a long term storage plan in this country, nuclear waste will continue to be stored on-site which is just asking for trouble.

I remember talking to my representative at the time and proposing that we instead store the waste in dry casks under the water tower down the street (my representative lived a couple of blocks away.) If it was really so safe we had nothing to fear. He clearly didn't want it in his back yard but he had no problem putting it in someone elses.

Once again, the final decision on whether or not they can store more waste on site will be made by the legislature. Last time around we used it as a bargaining chip for more renewable energy in the state. Lets make sure our legislators do the work of the people and get something in return for the devil's bargain proposed by Xcel.

(photo credit- Prairie Island Plant: Jonathunder)
(photo credit- Dry Cask Storage: Nuclear Regulatory Commission)


Brenda said...

So contact your legislators:

Is there a better action that we should all be taking right now to have an affect on this...or at the VERY least bring this into the forefront? When are the protests starting this time?

Why can't I find any groups taking immediate action on this?!