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House joins Senate in lifting nuclear power plant ban

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota representatives Thursday rejected an attempt to require a local vote before a nuclear power plant is built as they decided to lift a ban on building those plants.

On an 81-50 vote, the House joined the Senate in dropping a 16-year-old moratorium on building new nuclear power plants. However, Gov. Mark Dayton could veto the bill after having expressed concerns about storage of nuclear waste and power plant costs.

The House bill now heads for the Senate, where members could accept the slightly different language passed on Thursday or reject it and send it to negotiations.

One major difference between the House and Senate bills is that senators would require regular studies on the cost of storing nuclear waste next to power plants. The other difference is an amendment offered by Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, on Thursday to forbid the reprocessing of nuclear waste into weapons-grade plutonium.

If Dayton rejects the measure once he gets the bill, Rep. Bill Hilty, DFL-Finlayson, said, "I think it would be very difficult to override a veto."

Rep. Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, said her bill would not require a new power plant, and one probably could not be built for 10 to 15 years, but under the current moratorium on new plants "we have taken them off the table."

No utility has said it is interested in a new nuclear plant, which would cost billions of dollars.

Among the amendments killed in the House was one that would have required voters in the area of a proposed plant to approve it.

"Why should we not let the people decide?" asked Rep. Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Township.

The northern Minnesota lawmaker said the state made a mistake in 1994 when it allowed nuclear waste to be stored 600 yards from the Prairie Island Indian Community near Red Wing.

"Wrong then, wrong now," Anzelc said.

Supporters argued that existing rules and laws would guarantee safety if state authorities voted to approve a new plant.

Hilty said he is concerned about the cost of any new plant. He said that no recently built nuclear power plant has come in on time or on budget. "All of them have enormous cost overruns."

An amendment Hilty introduced, but failed, would have limited how much utilities could collect from customers for construction costs before a plant begins operations.

House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, called the measure a jobs bill because it has the potential of creating more work if a plant is built.

However, Hilty said that current construction practices often mean the plants are built in segments and shipped to the site, so jobs created may not even be in Minnesota.

Thursday's House debate comes on the heels of two major nuclear power news stories:

E The maker of control rods used in nuclear reactors, including Monticello, Minn., said the rods could present a "substantial safety hazard." GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy reports that the rods have a shorter lifespan than earlier expected.

E New York, Connecticut and Vermont attorneys general are suing the federal government for allowing power plants to store nuclear waste for 60 years, twice what now is allowed.

Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota representatives Thursday rejected an attempt to require a local vote before a nuclear power plant is built as they decided to lift a ban on building those plants.

On an 81-50 vote, the House joined the Senate in dropping a 16-year-old moratorium on building new nuclear power plants. However, Gov. Mark Dayton could veto the bill after having expressed concerns about storage of nuclear waste and power plant costs.

The House bill now heads for the Senate, where members could accept the slightly different language passed on Thursday or reject it and send it to negotiations.

One major difference between the House and Senate bills is that senators would require regular studies on the cost of storing nuclear waste next to power plants. The other difference is an amendment offered by Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, on Thursday to forbid the reprocessing of nuclear waste into weapons-grade plutonium.

If Dayton rejects the measure once he gets the bill, Rep. Bill Hilty, DFL-Finlayson, said, "I think it would be very difficult to override a veto."

Rep. Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, said her bill would not require a new power plant, and one probably could not be built for 10 to 15 years, but under the current moratorium on new plants "we have taken them off the table."

No utility has said it is interested in a new nuclear plant, which would cost billions of dollars.

Among the amendments killed in the House was one that would have required voters in the area of a proposed plant to approve it.

"Why should we not let the people decide?" asked Rep. Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Township.

The northern Minnesota lawmaker said the state made a mistake in 1994 when it allowed nuclear waste to be stored 600 yards from the Prairie Island Indian Community near Red Wing.

"Wrong then, wrong now," Anzelc said.

Supporters argued that existing rules and laws would guarantee safety if state authorities voted to approve a new plant.

Hilty said he is concerned about the cost of any new plant. He said that no recently built nuclear power plant has come in on time or on budget. "All of them have enormous cost overruns."

An amendment Hilty introduced, but failed, would have limited how much utilities could collect from customers for construction costs before a plant begins operations.

House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, called the measure a jobs bill because it has the potential of creating more work if a plant is built.

However, Hilty said that current construction practices often mean the plants are built in segments and shipped to the site, so jobs created may not even be in Minnesota.

Thursday's House debate comes on the heels of two major nuclear power news stories:

- The maker of control rods used in nuclear reactors, including Monticello, Minn., said the rods could present a "substantial safety hazard." GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy reports that the rods have a shorter lifespan than earlier expected.

- New York, Connecticut and Vermont attorneys general are suing the federal government for allowing power plants to store nuclear waste for 60 years, twice what now is allowed.

Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.

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