A leak of contaminated water from Xcel Energy’s Monticello nuclear power plant hasn’t exactly changed many opinions as the Minnesota legislature debates the future role of nuclear power in a zero-carbon electric grid.
But it has become part of the debate among lawmakers — and may have served to reinforce existing views — over the $300,000 bill. Study of emerging nuclear technology In a situation where new plants are currently prohibited. One study had the endorsement of Gov. Tim Walz, but the idea divided Democrats, who control the House and Senate.
“I think (the Monticello leak) is probably just a reminder that we need to be very careful,” said Rep. Patty Acomb, of Minnetonka-Devler who leads energy policy for House Democrats. “It certainly comes with risks, and the waste is always there. I definitely worry about what that means going forward.”
Nuclear power has long been controversial among Democrats, many of whom argue that new plants are too expensive and carry pollution risks. But there was a small, but increasingly influential, group of DFLers pushing to moderate Minnesota’s stance on the energy source because it could provide stable, carbon-free power when the state required utilities to be zero-emissions by 2040.
In the first place, these democrats care about the possibilities of the youngest “modular” nuclear reactors, which proponents hope will be cheaper than large conventional plants, and will be used as a flexible complement to intermittent wind and solar power. None of the companies operate in the US but technology is advancing and could eventually become part of the country’s energy supply.
However, Minnesota currently has two large, conventional nuclear plants, both of which are owned by Xcel Energy. These plants will play an important role in Xcel’s ability to reach a carbon-neutral standard in due course. In 2021, nuclear power made up nearly a third of the company’s energy mix.
The moratorium on new plants means that no other electric utilities in Minnesota have access to such a large amount of nuclear power. Republicans broadly argue that nuclear power is safe in the context of energy production and should be used to maintain a reliable grid.
Sen. Nick Frentz, a DFLer from North Mankato, is Acomb’s Senate counterpart. And it was more open to nuclear energy. The committee he chairs heard a bill this year easing the moratorium and allowing smaller reactors.
That day, the committee’s website posted a presentation titled “Tritium Storm in a Teapot,” referring to the compound in groundwater at the Monticello plant.
Xcel and state regulators said the leak had occurred Not dangerous to the public or the environmentalthough some questioned the time difference between when the leak was discovered and when it was announced.
This bill to ease the nuclear moratorium is unlikely to move forward. Frentz told MinnPost that he needs more information about small nuclear reactors, including more information about the risks. But his budget plan included the nuclear study, which won praise from Republicans.
The legislation would mandate research into the potential costs, benefits and impacts of “power generation at advanced nuclear technology reactors” on things like energy bills, clean energy goals, local jobs, the environment and more.
“If (the Monticello leak) caused any fundamental change in the committee members’ opinion about nuclear power, they did not mention it to me,” Frentz said.
Walz said Thursday that for him the debate is more about the issue of storage of nuclear waste, and he called for a long-term repository and avoiding more above-ground barrels at the Prairie Island plant next to the Prairie Island Indian community. On Wednesday, Xcel announced a deal for Pay more money to the tribe every year due to storage concerns as the facility seeks to extend the life of its plant.
However, Walz said there are promising opportunities around smaller modular nuclear reactors that are worth exploring. “I think they’re doing the right thing,” he said of the research. “Study this.”
Acomb said House DFLers are open to negotiations on the nuclear study bill but remain concerned about the potential price of building nuclear plants. She added that the issue is already under study outside the state government.
“I don’t think we need to do that here,” she said. “When I look at the limited funds we have, I want to make sure that we direct it toward things that will actually show results.”