Spent nuclear fuel storage casks outside Prairie Island nuclear plant

Rows of spent nuclear fuel storage casks sit outside Prairie Island nuclear plant. 

Xcel Energy has proposed a change to its spent fuel technology at its Prairie Island nuclear plant. The change would be for the final nine nuclear waste containers that have been approved to be filled on the island. 

The Minnesota Commerce Department drafted a supplemental environmental impact statement about the changes and presented them at two local public meetings: one in person on Wednesday, Feb. 16, at the Red Wing Ignite building, and the second was held virtually on the evening of Thursday, Feb. 17. 

Ray Kirsch is the environmental review manager for the commerce department. He worked on the draft impact statement and presented it at both meetings. 

Kirsch explained that there are four main reasons for the change in spent fuel storage: 

  • Cost:The Prairie Island nuclear generating plant currently uses TN-40 casks. The draft document describes the casks as, “all-in-one metal casks that provide both containment and shielding. The cask walls are thick–9.5 inches.” According to Xcel Energy estimates, changing the storage system would be “40 to 50 percent cheaper than continued use of the TN-40 cask system.” Cost differences are based on three factors: fabrication costs, the increased amount of fuel that can be stored in a canister, and the “increased use of canister systems in the spent fuel industry.” 

  • “Canister systems have become the industry standard” according to the draft impact statement. 

  • The fact that more spent fuel can be stored in one container is a plus for Xcel Energy. 

  • The statement adds, “Proposed interim storage facilities in Texas and New Mexico currently anticipated the storage of spent fuel in canisters, not casks.”

The Republican Eagle previously reported that the ability to move spent fuel is important as numerous municipalities hope to have spent fuel removed from their communities. 

The Prairie Island Indian Community, which shares the island with the nuclear facility, states on its website, “The Prairie Island Indian Community calls on the federal government to keep its promise to remove nuclear waste from Prairie Island and the 65 nuclear power plant sites around the country by creating one or more deep geologic repositories to store and dispose of nuclear waste.”

This statement refers to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, which was signed in 1982. The EPA summarizes the act as supporting “the use of deep geologic repositories for the safe storage and/or disposal of radioactive waste. The act establishes procedures to evaluate and select sites for geologic repositories and for the interaction of state and federal governments. It also provides a timetable of key milestones the federal agencies must meet in carrying out the program.”

However, there is currently no plan for moving spent fuel off of Prairie Island.

Xcel Energy does not currently have a spent fuel container selected to replace the TN-40. If approved, the change in spent fuel storage would allow Xcel to use any storage container approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for the final nine containers that can be filled on Prairie Island. 

Comments on the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement can be submitted to Kirsch through Thursday, March 3. Comments can be sent to raymond.kirsch@state.mn.us.

The draft statement can be found on the Commerce Department’s website.  

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