Minnesota Legislature Considers Expansion of Nuclear Power

Published August 1, 2008

The Minnesota legislature will hold another round of hearings in early 2009 to consider allowing new nuclear power plant construction in the state. The hearings will follow up on sessions held earlier this year, when legislators investigated the latest advances in nuclear power technology.

Minnesota currently has a moratorium on the construction of new nuclear power plants, dating back to the 1990s. According to the law, no nuclear power plants can be built in the state until and unless the federal government opens a centralized storage facility for used nuclear fuel. The federal government’s Yucca Mountain storage facility was initially scheduled to be open by now, but political maneuvering has put the facility in limbo.

Hearings Highlighted New Tech

Experts at the March 2008 hearings testified about technological advances in nuclear power that promise even safer and more economical power generation than the state’s currently operating nuclear plants. In light of aggressive carbon dioxide reduction mandates recently approved by the state legislature, many analysts view a resurgence of nuclear power as vital to the state meeting its carbon dioxide reduction goals.

State Rep. Bill Hilty (D-Finlayson) chaired the hearings. Hilty has been a vocal opponent of nuclear power in the past, but he now acknowledges growing sentiment to revisit the topic of nuclear plant construction.

“We need to think about our power needs in terms of finding an economic and social model that’s sustainable,” said Hilty in the June 11 Minnesota Post. “Meantime, the issue of nuclear power isn’t going to go away.”

Strong Bipartisan Support

Support for nuclear power is growing on both sides of the political aisle. State Reps. Tom Huntley (D-Duluth) and Tim Mahoney (D-St. Paul) and state Sen. Jim Carlson (D-Eagan) are among the most vocal supporters of new nuclear power plant construction.

“No one has ever died from nuclear power in this country,” Mahoney told the Minnesota Post for its June 11 story. “There isn’t enough capacity from wind. And if people want to use their flat-screen TVs and big computers, where do they think the power will come from?”

Among Republicans, support is equally strong.

“As clean and safe as currently operating nuclear power plants are, today’s technology is exponentially more advanced than the technology of the currently operating plants,” said state Sen. Mike Jungbauer (R-East Bethel).

Jungbauer, who two years ago authored the first bill designed to end the state’s nuclear power moratorium, noted support is increasing for expansion of nuclear power in the state.

“Support is growing, but the funny thing is that the very people who support the moratorium oppose coal. It seems like they prefer to have no power at all, as the state’s growing power needs cannot be met without nuclear and coal,” said Jungbauer.

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is a senior fellow of The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Environment & Climate News.