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Is nuclear power attractive or risky? In Minnesota, it’s both.

Christian Science Monitor, By Colette Davidson Special correspondent @kolet_ink May 1, 2023|MONTICELLO, MINN.

At a clearing in the brush, a clunky wooden dock is still pulled onshore for the season amid piles of dirty snow. Usually, this boat landing at the Montissippi Regional Park is a popular spot for amateurs to fish bass and walleye from the Mississippi River.  

But after the Xcel Energy nuclear plant – just half a mile away – announced in March that radioactive material had leaked twice from a faulty pipe since November, some locals say they’re worried about what’s in the water. ……………………….

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Minnesota Department of Health say the risks to the public from the leaks of water contaminated with tritium – totaling a little more than 400,000 gallons – are minimal and have not affected public drinking water. Xcel Energy powered down its Monticello plant in mid-March for maintenance, once the second leak had been discovered. 

That has done little to assuage the fears of local residents, however, who say the utility company should have notified the public earlier about the leak. 

……………………………..  a renewed push for nuclear energy, even among former skeptics. Yet building public trust remains a key challenge, in Minnesota and across the nation – particularly in the wake of incidents like the one in Monticello. 


Reliance, but also restrictions

The U.S. gets approximately 19% of its electricity from nuclear power, according to the Energy Information Administration. While states need to go through the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for licensing approval, much of the challenge of building nuclear energy plants or considering new nuclear technologies is getting past state legislation.  

Minnesota – which gets 24% of its electricity from two nuclear power plants – is one of 12 states that currently have a moratorium on the construction of new nuclear power facilities. That has led proponents here to focus their efforts instead on the latest technologies, like small modular reactors………..

……………  in the past five years, more Minnesota Democrats have come around to the idea of nuclear energy – an issue that once split along party lines.  

This mirrors a wider national trend. In 2023 alone, there have been close to 100 bills across 20 states to repeal moratoriums or study nuclear energy, according to the Nuclear Innovation Alliance, based in Washington, D.C. The U.S. Department of Energy recently invested nearly $2 billion in TerraPower’s construction of a nuclear reactor in Kemmerer, Wyoming, to replace a retiring coal plant. And John Kerry, the special presidential envoy for climate, has openly supported nuclear energy….

Evolving concerns on safety 

That’s not to say there aren’t concerns about nuclear from within the climate advocacy community. With the exception of the Vogtle plant in Burke County, Georgia – which boasts next-generation technology – the U.S. reactor fleet is of the same or similar generation as the one involved in Japan’s Fukushima disaster in 2011.  

“Whether they’re identical in design or not, they all have the same level of vulnerability,” says Edwin Lyman, a physicist and the director of nuclear power safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a national watchdog. …………………………..

Dr. Lyman says the Biden administration, in its enthusiasm to tackle carbon emissions and roll out new nuclear plants, must be careful not to forgo needed safety rules. That becomes even more essential as climate change brings higher winds and flooding, the biggest risks for a reactor short-circuit. Nuclear operators have also struggled with how to store waste long term. New waste is stored in pools before being transferred to dry casks, which can take up land space indefinitely.

Mixed feelings by the Mississippi 

The public seems to be on board with putting more time and research into nuclear energy. According to an April Gallup poll, 55% of Americans support nuclear energy, the highest level in a decade.  

But for those living near nuclear plants, there are still concerns about safety and security – from the quality of groundwater to the threat of domestic terrorism. Out on the trail at Montissippi Regional Park in Monticello, locals joke that their tomatoes are extra large thanks to their proximity to the Xcel plant. Others say they’ve been drinking bottled water since the leak. 

“When those Chinese surveillance balloons flew overhead [in February], I did wonder, would the nuclear plant be a target?” says Betty, out for a walk with her husband Jack. Betty used to work for the city of Monticello and did not want to identify herself by her full name.

While the immediate risks may be small, she says she and her husband “live in the shadow of the nuclear plant,” which is a half mile from their house. Every year, Xcel Energy distributes a free calendar, which includes evacuation information in the event of disaster. ……………………………


May 3, 2023 - Posted by | public opinion, USA

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