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Ruling will keep nuclear waste at Prairie Island indefinitely

12-16 Terry Pickens Xcel.jpg
Terry Pickens, Xcel Director of Nuclear Regulatory Policy. Prairie Island Xcel Nuclear Power Plant
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WELCH — A ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit will leave the spent nuclear fuel at the Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant right where it's sitting for the foreseeable future.

The Court of Appeals on June 3 upheld a 2014 ruling that allows for the continued onsite storage of radioactive material, mostly spent nuclear fuel. The 2014 ruling is from a case brought by several states regarding the environmental impact, and potential health and safety concerns regarding on-site storage of radioactive materials.

Shelley Buck, Prairie Island Indian Community Tribal Council president, said the community's worst fear is that the nuclear waste will remain on the tribe's ancestral homeland forever.

"Our fears are much closer to reality because of this ruling," Buck said.

Buck described the spent fuel as "some of the most dangerous and toxic substances known to mankind." That nuclear waste, she said, is stored 600 yards from the homes of some of the community's members.

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"We are frustrated that the U.S. Court of Appeals has failed to consider the very real health and safety impacts of permanent on-site storage of highly radioactive nuclear waste," she said.

Terry Pickens, director of nuclear regulatory policy for the plant, said the plant has 40 dry-storage casks at the plant used to hold spent nuclear fuel, and is licensed to hold 64 of the casks, which would bring the plant to the end of its license to generate power. Ideally, he said, the spent fuel would be transferred to a nuclear waste repository, such as the one proposed for Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

Speaking at Monday's city council meeting, Red Wing City Council Member Peggy Rehder said the feeling from the offices of U.S. Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar is that the Senate will approach the idea of completing the nuclear waste facility at Yucca Mountain after the retirement of Sen. Harry Reid. Reid, of Nevada, has announced he will not seek re-election on the November ballot.

Rehder, who said she had just returned from a trip to Washington, D.C., to meet with Minnesota's congressional representatives, said Reid has used his position in the Senate leadership to block the completion of the Yucca Mountain site.

"Sen. Schumer's office, his staff, expressed a belief that there would be a change in the atmosphere," Rehder said, referring to Sen. Chuck Schumer, a likely replacement for Reid as minority leader of the Senate. "The House has been very much in favor of getting Yucca Mountain open."

Shelley Buck mug - Prairie Island President
Shelley Buck

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