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Senate votes to allow nuclear power plants

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ST. PAUL -- No new Minnesota nuclear power plants are planned, but state senators overwhelmingly voted Wednesday to lift a 16-year-old moratorium on building one.

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"It is not a decision to construct a new nuclear power plant in the state of Minnesota ..." Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said about the vote. "It is not a preference for nuclear power."

Long-time nuclear opponent Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, countered: "There is nobody who really needs this bill" because no utilities even have a nuclear plant in their plans.

Senators passed the bill 50-14 with a similar one expected to come up for a House vote soon. Several Democrats joined Republicans in supporting it.

Gov. Mark Dayton's spokeswoman said he personally opposes nuclear power, but could consider signing the bill if the waste-storage issue is solved, if utility customers are protected from soaring rates and if no weapon's grade material is present in Minnesota.

Lawmakers originally put the moratorium in place largely because there was no place to store nuclear waste, a product of nuclear power plants.

"Nothing has changed," Anderson said.

Waste is being stored at nuclear plants near Red Wing and Monticello after an expected Nevada mountain-based storage facility no longer is being considered.

The Prairie Island Indian Community, 600 yards from Xcel Energy's two nuclear reactors near Red Wing, opposes a nuclear expansion.

Without a solution to the waste question, "the state would be irresponsible to entertain building new nuclear power plants or new reactors at existing plants," Prairie Island Vice President Alan Childs II testified earlier.

Xcel stores 725 tons of radioactive waste in 29 steel casks near its Prairie Island reactors, and less at its Monticello plant.

Koch and other supporters said they do not foresee a nuclear plant being proposed soon, but want that option available.

"Minnesota should not move into the future with one hand tied behind its back," Koch said.

Anderson questioned why nuclear power is the first major bill to arise in the Senate this year.

"This is the wrong bill at the wrong time," Anderson said, saying the state's $6.2 billion budget deficit should be lawmakers' main job now. "I think it is the wrong priority."

The Senate's Republican majority defeated several attempts to weaken the bill, including one by Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, that would forbid a new nuclear plant until the waste problem is solved.

The bill senators passed requires a nuclear waste cost studies every three years, an amendment Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, go attached to the bill in an earlier committee meeting.

The bill, Howe said, "moves the discussion forward."

Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, reminded senators that President Barack Obama suggested looking into nuclear power during his State of the Union speech.

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

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