Action on a proposed repeal of Minnesota's ban on new nuclear power plants appears to be on hold after the explosions at a nuclear facility in Japan.
But Republican sponsors of the measure say it's Gov. Mark Dayton's conditions for the repeal, not the crisis in Japan, that's delaying final action.
As House and Senate negotiators met Friday to began comparing their nuclear moratorium repeal bills, technicians 6,000 miles away in Japan were scrambling to prevent a reactor meltdown at a facility along the country's earthquake- and tsunami-damaged coast.
Japan's still worsening nuclear crisis is now an unavoidable backdrop for Minnesota lawmakers, who want to lift the state's 17-year-old ban. Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said she's been monitoring the situation in Japan, but she expects the legislative process to continue.
"Obviously we don't have — thank goodness — 8.9 on the Richter Scale earthquakes in Minnesota," Koch said. "We don't have tsunamis. But we'll just keep monitoring the situation and keep the discussions going."
The other conference committee chair, Rep. Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, is also paying attention to Japan. Peppin also said she's not concerned about earthquakes or tsunamis in Minnesota.
"It's a little like comparing apples and oranges," she said. "While I think this is a terrible tragedy and we should certainly watch and learn from the disaster, I don't think that should put an end to our energy policy and what we discuss in Minnesota."
Peppin's main concern about the bill is what Dayton has said he needs in order to sign it. The Democratic governor is insisting that ratepayers are protected from the costs of a new nuclear plant. He also wants a clear plan for storing new nuclear waste and a guarantee that spent fuel won't be turned into weapons-grade plutonium.
Only the plutonium issue is currently addressed in the House version of the bill. Peppin said Dayton's requirements are impossible and would make the repeal almost stricter than the current moratorium.
"I'm not saying it's an either/or proposition, but there will have to be some movement to actually make it happen," Peppin said.
Dayton told reporters Monday that the situation in Japan makes the policy discussion underway here more difficult, but he didn't rule out eventually signing the bill to lift the moratorium. He also didn't suggest the issue should be set aside.
"I don't have all the facts," he said. "I don't think we know what the details are of what occurred there. I just hope and pray that the consequences, the severity in the nuclear power plants are able to be minimized."
Dayton was avoiding a rush to judgment, but a Democrat who strongly opposes the repeal was not. Rep. Frank Hornstein of Minneapolis said lifting the nuclear power ban is absolutely the last thing Minnesota should be doing right now.
"I think what this disaster has once again reminded us of is nuclear power is an incalculable risk," he said. "That's why we have the moratorium, and that's why it should stay in place."
It's now up to Peppin to call another conference committee meeting, which she said she will probably do next week. But Peppin said there is currently no timetable for finishing the bill, taking final votes and sending it to the governor.