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Reps. Paulsen and Walz call to lift ban on nuclear power

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Monticello nuclear power plant
The Monticello nuclear power plant, which is owned by Xcel Energy.
Photo courtesy of the Virtual Nuclear Tourist

Two members of Minnesota's congressional delegation joined a variety of other groups Tuesday to urge the Minnesota Legislature to repeal a law that prohibits nuclear power plants from being built in the state. 

DFL Rep. Tim Walz and Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen say allowing new nuclear power plants in Minnesota would give the state more energy options. Critics say the benefits of nuclear power are still in doubt.

The issue of whether Minnesota should lift the ban on new nuclear power plants in the state has been brewing at the Legislature for several years. The ban was enacted in 1994 after the Legislature approved storing nuclear waste at the Prairie Island plant. 

Last year, the Minnesota Senate voted to lift it, but the effort fell 12 votes short in the Minnesota House. 

This year, a wide variety of groups are pushing to repeal the ban. 

Standing before a group of business and labor leaders today, Paulsen said the state will need a large increase in power in the future and he believes that nuclear energy should be an option.

"Trying to meet our energy needs without nuclear energy is a little bit like rowing a boat with one oar," he said. "It's going to be difficult to make any progress and you're going to keep going in circles."

While Paulsen discussed the future energy needs of the state, Walz focused on the environment. 

Walz said he has concerns about nuclear waste being stored in the state but warned of the environmental impact of building another coal fired power plant. 

He said a new nuclear plant would increase energy production and decrease greenhouse gas emissions - something many environmental groups have been pushing for.

"That's why we think the two go hand in hand. That's why we think energy policy is climate policy, is job policy and is national security policy," Walz said.

There are currently two plants in Minnesota - one in Prairie Island near Red Wing, the other in Monticello. They were built in the 1970s. 

Both Walz and Paulsen said they would be open to the construction of a new nuclear plant in their congressional districts if the moratorium is lifted.

The two, plus the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and various labor unions, say they will work to convince the Legislature to scrap the moratorium.

But supporters of the ban, like state Rep. Bill Hilty, DFL-Finlayson, aren't convinced that nuclear power is the answer. 

"There are a number of projects that have been attempted that are underway. None of which, as far as I'm aware, have so far succeeded," he said.

Hilty said he isn't completely opposed to expanding nuclear power, but he wants to see evidence that any new nuclear plants would be safe and cost efficient. Until then, Hilty said he'll oppose lifting the moratorium.

"As soon as anyone anywhere on the planet can demonstrate that this next generation of reactors is capable of being built on time, on budget and at a reasonable cost of electricity then it's time for us to look at it," Hilty said. "But Minnesota does not need to be a nuclear guinea pig."

Even if the moratorium is lifted, there's no guarantee that a plant would be built in Minnesota. 

Those who want to lift the ban say no one at any utility expressed a willingness to build a plant in the state. And even if they did, it would take a decade or more to build one.