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Amendment stops nuke bill progress

Sen. Amy Koch of Buffalo considers arguments against her bill to lift a 16-year-old Minnesota ban on building a nuclear power plant. Pioneer Photo/Don Davis

ST. PAUL -- A proposal to lift Minnesota's moratorium on new nuclear power plants is in limbo after a Senate committee amended it with what its sponsor called a poison pill.

The Senate Energy, Utilities, Technology and Communications Committee on a 9-6 vote Thursday tacked an amendment on the bill with a series of requirements the state and power companies must follow before a nuclear power plant could be built.

The requirements, suggested by Sen. John Doll, DFL-Burnsville, included not allowing a new power plant until the federal government provides a place to store nuclear waste. Federal officials for years have promised to provide storage in a Nevada mountain, but the Obama administration says that will not happen.

Doll's amendment also would provide several of what he called consumer protections so customers would not end up paying for construction cost overruns and other burdensome expenses.

As soon as Doll's amendment went on her bill, sponsor Sen. Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, pulled it from consideration. Before the meeting, she said such requirements would mean new nuclear plants would not be built.

After the vote, Koch said she will continue efforts to remove the nuclear plant moratorium during this legislative session, and in future years if needed.

"I just felt it was important to have the ... committee come out with a nice, clean vote on ending the moratorium," she said. "I felt strongly enough about it to table my own bill."

She added that despite the amendment passing she feels the discussions of the past few days have been a giant step forward. "I feel this is the kind of discussion we need to have."

Proponents say nuclear power is clean, producing no greenhouse-harming gases, and economical. Opponents fear dangers from radioactive waste, which now is stored just outside the state's nuclear plants near Red Wing and Monticello.

Minnesota has banned nuclear power plant construction since 1994, when the two sides of the issue agreed to allow the Red Wing and Monticello plants, but also required power companies getting electricity from them to dramatically increase renewable power use.

Red Wing's Prairie Island plant has two reactors, the Monticello operation one.

Sen. Steve Dille, R-Dassel, was on the House-Senate conference committee that hammered out that deal. On Thursday, wearing a pin declaring "I survived Prairie Island 1994 conference committee," he said he enthusiastically supports nuclear power.

While the 1994 compromise helped spur wind and other alternative power, Dille said that it was a mistake to ban new power plants.

Holding a tiny model of a nuclear power pellet, he said a pellet produces as much electricity as a ton of coal.

Koch said she knows of no company ready to build a new Minnesota nuclear plant, but thought her bill could encourage one. Doll, on the other hand, said that energy officials say no major new plant is needed until 2024 or later.

Andrew Tellijohn of the State Capitol Bureau contributed to this story. Don Davis and Tellijohn report for Forum Communications Co.