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Minnesota should consider nuclear power

With interest in such a great diversity of potential energy sources from solar to wind and biofuels like ethanol and biomass, it would seem that states like Minnesota, which recently mandated that by 2025 a quarter of the state's electricity be generated by renewable sources, would at least allow one more option to be brought to the table for discussion, especially when that option has been successfully powering 60 other countries for years and is making great strides in efficiency.

State law currently prohibits the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission from approving a Certificate of Need for constructing a new nuclear power plant. I believe it is time to allow clean, safe and reliable new nuclear power plants to be considered, and the step taken by the Senate Energy, Utilities, Technology and Communications Committee is to hear this bill, Senate File 355 is a great step forward. Unfortunately, a surprise amendment was passed by the DFL members of the committee at the end of the hearing that gutted the bill of its intent, and we tabled the bill from further committee action.

To be clear: Deciding to repeal the prohibition is not a decision to construct a new nuclear power plant in Minnesota, lifting the ban would, however, allow our electricity providers and the commission to consider all options.

Plans for new nuclear power plants are progressing in other states. The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission currently is reviewing 12 applications to construct and operate 20 new nuclear units in 10 states.

On Feb. 16, President Obama announced the award of the first federal loan guarantee for more than $8 billion to construct two new nuclear units at a Southern Co. site in Georgia, saying "This is only the beginning." His administration has proposed to triple -- to $54.5 billion loan guarantees available for new nuclear construction. The president called nuclear power a key part of comprehensive energy legislation that assigns a cost to the carbon pollution of fossil fuels, giving utility companies more incentive to turn to cleaner nuclear fuel.

I am encouraged by President Obama's recognition of the important role that clean, safe and reliable nuclear power can play in concert with renewable energy to ensure an adequate supply of clean energy for our nation's future. Minnesota should not move into the future with one hand tied behind its back because we will not even consider the benefits that new nuclear power might bring to Minnesota.

A new nuclear facility would also mean jobs: 700 permanent jobs that pay about a third more than average. Plus, it would create a substantial number of construction jobs and a significant number of positions of support to provide goods and services to that workforce.

If plans for new nuclear generation are going to move forward the federal government has to fulfill its legal and ethical obligation of disposing of our nation's used nuclear materials.

In President Obama's Jan. 29 memorandum asking Energy Secretary Steven Chu to establish a blue ribbon commission on America's nuclear future, President Obama stated: "An important part of a sound, comprehensive, and long-term domestic nuclear energy strategy is a well-considered policy for managing used nuclear fuel and other aspects of the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle. Yet the nation's approach, developed more than 20 years ago, to managing materials derived from nuclear activities, including nuclear fuel and nuclear waste, has not proven effective. Fortunately, over the past two decades scientists and engineers in our country and abroad have learned a great deal about effective strategies for managing nuclear material. My administration is committed to using this advanced knowledge to meet the government's obligation to dispose of our nation's used nuclear material."

Each year, this issue gains more support from individuals and organizations representing vast backgrounds and expertise. We are proud to have the vocal support this year of Minnesota labor and business leaders as well as U.S. Reps. Erik Paulsen and Tim Walz, and co-founder and former leader of Greenpeace Patrick Moore, who currently serves as co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition.

As more Minnesotans learn the importance of broadening our energy portfolio to simply meet our state's future baseload power needs, I am certain that more will allow themselves to look at the promise of modern nuclear facilities. SF 355 and lifting the nuclear moratorium isn't an answer to Minnesota's energy future, but it would open the door to adding nuclear to the growing number of options we can consider as part of a complete energy strategy.

Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, is a member of the Minnesota Senate and is chief author of the legislation.