Closing 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
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.