City of Red Wing

State Must Act on Long-term Nuclear Waste Storage

Tuesday, December 29 2009 12:00 AM

hallockClosing of Yucca Mountain Shifts Storage and Safety Responsibilities to StateMarshall Hallock, Director, Finance Department 

When the Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant (PINGP) was  built  in  1973,  the  federal government assured the city of Red Wing,  along  with  all  nuclear  plant  host cities, that the federal government would assume responsibility for the permanent safe storage of spent nuclear waste. This agreement  allowed  for  the  safe  out-of-state  transfer  of  nuclear  waste  produced at PINGP to the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste  Repository  in  Nevada.  Recently,however, the Obama Administration announced its plans to defund, withdraw licensing for and close Yucca Mountain. As a result, nuclear waste that has been stored at the PINGP since operations began and waste produced today will be stored in Red Wing for generations.  Because  the  federal  government has  again  delayed  effectively  addressing the permanent storage of radioactive nuclear  waste,  the  state  of  Minnesota, which  has  long  benefited  from  clean, affordable  energy,  must  ensure  the state  of  Minnesota’s  continued  positive  legacy  of  safe  nuclear  energy.  As a nuclear plant host city, the Red Wing City  Council  has  made  it  a  priority  to ensure  the  state  implements  sufficient safety, regulatory and financial policies to protect not only Red Wing residents, but all Minnesotans, without placing an undue burden on local taxpayers.  

The  realities  of  increased  nuclear waste  storage  are  already  hitting  home in  Red  Wing.  Recently,  an  independent consultant  recommended  that  the  city of  Red  Wing  enhance  public  safety resources by adding additional fire stations,  personnel  and  requisite  equipment. These  recommendations  would improve the city of Red Wing’s response time  to  public  safety  incidents  within the  service  area,  including  the  city  and the  PINGP.  Unfortunately, with the dramatic decline in property taxes paid from  the  PINGP  and  cuts  to  state-paid local  government  aids,  the  city  of  Red Wing currently cannot afford the recommended  services.  In  the  future,  if  the city  cannot  afford  to  accommodate  the recommended services, it will be forced to  make  cuts  in  public  safety  services, which  will  negatively  impact  the  city’s ability to continue to meet the demands of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s mandated  Emergency  Response  Plan. Without addressing these public safety needs, the public safety response time to an incident at the PINGP or elsewhere within Red Wing will diminish.  The  current  economic  downturn that has affected the city of Red Wing, the state and the nation alike illustrates precisely  why  now  is  the  time  for Minnesota to implement a comprehensive  statewide  plan  for  the  long-term storage  of  nuclear  waste  within  the state.  The  safety  of  Red  Wing  residents  and  of  all  Minnesotans  must be  ensured  in  times  of  both  economic slowdown and prosperity. By providing the  necessary  funding  mechanisms,  a state-level  nuclear  waste  storage  plan will  ensure  that  local  public  safety services  are  available  for  the  decades that  nuclear  waste  remains  housed  in Red Wing. 

If  the  state  does  not  implement essential  protections  now,  the  cost  of safely  storing  nuclear  waste  will  fall heavily  on  local  property  taxpayers, which  will  be  disruptive  to  the  local and  state  economies.  In partnership with nuclear plant host cities, the state must ensure that the safety of its residents and continued affordability of nuclear energy is not compromised by inadequate state-level policies. 

The city of Red Wing has taken the necessary  steps- and  continues  to  do so- to assist in the creation and definition of the proper safety, regulatory and financial  policies  and  thereby  ensure nuclear  energy’s  safe  and  affordable future  in  Minnesota.  Being  proactive on  long-term  nuclear  storage  waste issues is not a choice, but a responsibility that both the city of Red Wing and the  state  of  Minnesota  must  confront immediately. 

Nuclear Waste Time Line

When the PINGP was built in Red Wing, the federal government agreed to provide safe storage of nuclear waste. Over the course of the nuclear plant’s history, this agreement has eroded. 

§  1973-74: PINGP begins operations in Red Wing. Original waste generated by the PINGP is stored onsite in the spent fuel or cooling pool awaiting an ultimate decision by the federal government  to  either  dispose  of  the  spent  nuclear  fuel  in  a permanent deep geological repository or reprocess it to recover usable nuclear materials. 

§  1977: President Jimmy Carter signs Executive Order banning the reprocessing of nuclear waste. 

§  1982: Federal government enacts Nuclear Waste Policy Act, which calls for the construction of two federal repositories, one on the west coast and the other on the east coast. The act requires the U.S. Department of Energy to pick up the nation’s nuclear waste no later than January 31, 1998. 

§  1986: The federal government abandons effort to find a suitable east coast repository. 

§  1987:  The federal government determines that Yucca Mountain will become the national repository for commercial nuclear waste. 

§  1994:  The 1994 state Legislature authorizes 17 dry cask storage units at the PINGP. Casks were subsequently placed at the PINGP. 

§  1998: The federal government fails to pick up nuclear waste as required by law.  The  continued  development  of  Yucca Mountain  as  a  waste  repository  is  slowed  due  to  geological, engineering and legal challenges. 

§  2003: The State of Minnesota authorizes 12 additional dry cask storage units at the PINGP, bringing the number of total authorized casks to 29.  The authorization required that any §  future  requests  for  additional  nuclear  waste  storage  capacity  would  be  subject  to  the  approval  of  the  Minnesota  Public Utilities Commission. 

§  May 2008: Xcel Energy announces it will seek permission from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to add 35 additional dry cask units at the PINGP.  

§  February 2009: The federal budget released by the Obama Administration slashes funding for the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Storage Facility, effectively terminating efforts on the national repository. 

§  November   2009: The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approves 35 additional dry cask storage units at the PINGP, bringing the total number of authorized casks to 64. 

Facts on Nuclear Storage at Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant

  • There are currently 25 dry casks storing highly radioactive nuclear waste at the Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant (PINGP) which was until recently permitted for only 29 dry casks. 
  • Xcel Energy requested and was recently awarded a certificate of need for an additional 35 dry casks to support operations at the PINGP until 2034. The site is now permitted for 64 dry casks. The storage of these casks is currently within the city of Red Wing’s boundaries and will remain there until removed by the federal government.
  • Should the PINGP be decommissioned in 2033 and 2034 as currently proposed, 34 additional dry casks will be needed to remove the last of the spent fuel from the spent fuel or cooling pool. §  In 2034, Red Wing will more than likely be the permanent home for at least 98 dry casks storing highly radioactive nuclear waste.
  • Radioactive waste, a by-product of producing nuclear energy, can remain radioactive and life-threatening for hundreds of thousands of years. 

National Consultant Recommends Red Wing Enhance Emergency Response Services
Prepared by Emergency Services Consulting, Inc. A national independent emergency services consultant recommends that the city of Red Wing improve its emergency response capacity in order to adequately address the safety needs of both its residents and the PINGP. In particular, the recommendations include:

§  Hiring a significant number of additional firefighters/paramedics.

§  Acquiring additional fire apparatus, including three fire trucks.

§  Acquiring additional ambulances.

§  Constructing  and  equipping  two  additional  fire  stations  (including  one  on Prairie Island).

The City Council has reviewed these measures and is looking at implementing some, but not all, due to financial constraints. However, if the city of Red Wing’s immediate revenue issues are not addressed, none of the proposals will be implemented. Instead, the city will be making cuts in crucial and necessary public safety services.