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Lawmakers move toward nuclear, coal power approval

ST. PAUL -- A Minnesota House committee voted Tuesday to allow new nuclear power plants in the state, with another vote coming soon to remove a ban on new coal power plants and to allow North Dakota coal and electrical power.

Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, promised to work with Gov. Mark Dayton on both issues. Dayton has expressed reservations on expanding nuclear power.

"We're not interested in jamming and getting a veto," said McNamara, chairman of the House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Committee that voted 10-6 to advance a bill lifting the nuclear power plant ban to another committee.

McNamara and other Republicans leaders, who hold a legislative majority over Democrats, expect some form of the measure to pass. Democrats generally oppose lifting the ban, saying they do not want more nuclear waste stored in the state, and some claim nuclear power is too expensive.

Rep. Dave Hancock, R-Bemidji, voted for the measure while Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, opposed it.

President Victoria Winfrey of the Prairie Island Indian Community Tribal Council told McNamara's committee that the tribe opposes lifting the nuclear moratorium until a safe place to store waste is found.

Winfrey said 725 tons of waste already are stored at Prairie Island nuclear power plant, operated by Xcel Energy near Red Wing. She said that if the power plant's license remains in effect for another two decades, 2,500 tons of waste will be stored there, near the tribal community.

The president said she feared that an increasing number of "operating errors" puts her tribe in radioactive danger.

Dan Bender of the Red Wing City Council said the city supports lifting the construction ban. He reminded the House committee that French nuclear reactors use recycled nuclear material and urged state lawmakers to pressure Washington to begin that process here.

Bride Seifert of the Minnesota chamber of Commerce said that no company is considering building a new nuclear power plant, to join ones in Red Wing and Monticello.

Even if someone wants to build a new plant, Rep. Andrew Falk, DFL-Murdock, said, "we have the capability of talking about nuclear power in the current structure."

"Over the past few years, Minnesota has made a nation-leading commitment to home-grown renewable resources," added Rep. Bill Hilty, DFL-Finlayson. "Our emphasis on renewable energy is jobs now, not jobs 10 to 15 years from now."

Rep. Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, said she sponsored the bill lifting the moratorium because the demand for electricity will continue to increase as her children grow older.

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