Minnesota House says no to new nuclear power plants

By MARTIGA LOHN , Associated Press

A move to open Minnesota to future nuclear power plants fell short Thursday in the House, hurting the chances of any change this year.

The vote was 72-60 against undoing a 15-year-old moratorium on new nuclear facilities.

The action showed divisions within the DFL majority, with Democrats voting on both sides of the issue and most Republicans supporting the change. It came just four weeks after a surprise Senate vote to scrap the nuclear prohibition, a position shared by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

A 1994 statute prevents the Public Utilities Commission from authorizing construction of new nuclear facilities. But opposition to nuclear energy has softened more recently as the country searches for clean power. Minnesota aims to get a quarter of its energy from renewable sources by 2025 or even sooner. The state already has two nuclear plants, near Monticello and Red Wing.

"We can only do so much with renewable power," said Rep. Tim Faust, DFL-Hinckley.

He added: "I hope that Minnesota never has to build a nuclear power plant. Never has to build another coal plant. I hope that conservation and renewable energy can make up the difference, but I'm afraid that won't happen. What happens if we can't keep up?"

Others said more nuclear power has too many downsides.

Rep. Bill Hilty, DFL-Finlayson, said the nuclear option would distract from efforts to develop renewable energy and could stick ratepayers with the multimillion-dollar costs of considering a new nuclear plant. Others questioned the safety of nuclear power and what to do with the spent fuel and wastewater it produces.

"We haven't solved the issue of waste, a million-year radioactive toxic legacy that we'll pass on to untold generations," said Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis.

The House vote isn't the final word on the issue.