16 Minnesota Groups to MN Congressional Delegation: Reprocessing of Radioactive Waste From Prairie Island, Other Reactors 'Not a Solution'

Sep 30, 2009, 12:00 ET from Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, Environment Minnesota, and Clean Water Action Midwest Office

Higher Costs, Pollution and Proliferation Dangers if Congress Opens Door to Reprocessing

MINNEAPOLIS, Sept. 30 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Minnesota's Congressional delegation is hearing today from a diverse group of 16 Minnesota organizations -- including Clean Water Action, Environment Minnesota, Sierra Club North Star Chapter and the Minnesota Peace Project -- that strongly oppose any effort to open the door to the reprocessing of radioactive waste from Prairie Island and other nuclear reactors when Capitol Hill considers climate and energy legislation. In the case of Xcel Energy's Prairie Island site, where the entire island, including the dry cask storage, sits in a flood plain of the Mississippi River, the waste needs to be moved to a more secure site as close to the reactor as possible as a necessary interim step.

The joint letter states that the controversial and dangerous practice of reprocessing is "not a solution to Minnesota's or any state's nuclear waste problem." The letter explains in detail how reprocessing actually increases the volume of radioactive waste, is enormously costly, worsens proliferation concerns (including terrorist threats), increases pollution going into lakes, streams and rivers, and poses a range of safety risks. The full text of the 16-group letter is available online at http://www.carbonfreenuclearfree.org/state-groups/minnesota.

In alphabetical order, the signers of the letter to Minnesota's federal elected officials are: Clean Water Action, Communities United for Responsible Energy, Environment Minnesota, Fairmont Peace Group, Honor the Earth Foundation, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, Institute for Local Self Reliance, Mankato Area Environmentalists, Minnesota Peace Project, North American Water Office, Prairie Island Coalition, Sierra Club North Star Chapter, Twin City Artist Front, White Earth Land Recovery Project, Women Against Military Madness, and Women's International League for Peace & Freedom.

Dan Endreson, program coordinator, Clean Water Action Midwest Office, Minneapolis, said: "Minnesota state legislation over the past 15 years has allowed nuclear facilities at Prairie Island and Monticello to store spent fuel in casks along the banks of the Mississippi River. These casks were meant to serve as a short-term solution to nuclear waste storage while the federal government constructed a geological repository. As the proposed site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada has been declared 'no longer an option' by President Obama, nuclear advocates claim they have found a silver bullet to the waste problem that would make the need for a repository unnecessary -- reprocessing. This claim is completely false. Not only will reprocessing not solve the waste problem, it will actually make it worse. Department of Energy officials estimate that reprocessing spent fuel will result in a six-fold increase in the volume of repository-bound radioactive waste. Moreover, a reprocessing plant would take decades and tens of billions of dollars to build -- not exactly a cost-effective or quick solution for the real problem of spent fuel storage at Prairie Island. We urge our elected officials to reject the reprocessing of nuclear waste and instead work to secure spent fuel at or as near as possible to reactor sites."

Lisa Ledwidge, outreach director, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, Minneapolis, said: "France is often held up by proponents as a poster country for radioactive waste 'reprocessing.' Problem is, the narrative usually includes some mythology. My colleagues at IEER have studied the French nuclear situation in detail. ... First is the problem that reprocessing is expensive. France spends about $1 billion extra per year on plutonium fuel compared to conventional uranium fuel. Reprocessing drives up the cost of nuclear-generated electricity by 5.3 percent -- according to a report written for the French Prime Minister by members of the country's nuclear establishment. We can extrapolate this to the U.S. waste problem. Right now, nuclear electricity consumers are paying 0.1 cent per kWh for radioactive waste disposal; this fee is fixed by the U.S. government. While it may well turn out to be quite inadequate, if reprocessing becomes part of U.S. waste management policy, the waste disposal costs would likely increase the cost of nuclear power by 2 cents per kWh, possibly more."

Cathy Murphy, district coordinator, Minnesota Peace Project, Minneapolis, said: "The Minnesota Peace Project is dedicated to stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and we think our congressional delegation ought to be, too. Because reprocessing would make proliferation problems worse, we vigorously oppose it and ask our Minnesota congressional representatives to stand with us in saying NO to reprocessing. Reprocessing radioactive waste poses significant proliferation risks. Since reprocessing extracts plutonium -- a key component of nuclear bombs -- from spent fuel, it makes weapons materials more available for nuclear and non-nuclear states, as well as terrorists."

The Minnesota groups' concerns about a lack of safe radioactive waste disposal are shared by many organizations and experts around the U.S. In 2006, over 150 national and local groups from around the country signed onto "Principles for Safeguarding Nuclear Waste at Reactors," (http://www.citizen.org/documents/PrinciplesSafeguardingIrradiatedFuel.pdf) which called for spent fuel to be secured at or near reactor sites, recognizing the lack of a viable permanent storage plan for the dangerous waste. These groups, including Minnesota organizations, recognized that reprocessing "has not solved the nuclear waste problem in any country, and actually exacerbates it by creating numerous additional waste streams that must be managed. In addition to being expensive and polluting, reprocessing also increases nuclear weapons proliferation threats."

In a September 15, 2009 opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times, Dr. Frank von Hippel, a physicist, professor of public and international affairs at Princeton University and co-chair of the International Panel on Fissile Materials, noted: "Reprocessing is enormously dangerous. The amount of radioactivity in the liquid waste stored at France's (nuclear waste reprocessing) plant is more than 100 times that released by the Chernobyl accident. That is why France's government set up antiaircraft missile batteries around its reprocessing plant after the 9/11 attacks."

Earlier this year, an effort to overturn Minnesota's ban on new nuclear reactors was defeated. The Minnesota House voted 70-62 on April 30, 2009 to keep the state's nuclear moratorium in place. Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, has stated publicly that the issues that led to the 1994 law are still not resolved. "We hear about advancement in technology, but we haven't solved the issue of waste -- a million-year radioactive toxic legacy that we'll pass on to untold generations," said Hornstein.

EDITOR'S NOTE: A streaming audio replay of the news event will be available on the Web at http://www.carbonfreenuclearfree.org/state-groups/minnesota as of 5 p.m. CDT on September 30, 2009.

SOURCE Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, Environment Minnesota, and Clean Water Action Midwest Office