Prairie Island Indian Community Calls for Permanent Nuclear-Waste Solution

The Prairie Island Indian Community lies right next to a fuel-rod dump from the neighborhood nuclear power plant that was supposed to be temporary, but now may stretch on for another 40 years if plant owner XCel Energy has its way.

A “temporary” dump of nuclear waste on power plant lands adjoining the Prairie Island Indian Community’s lands has outstayed its welcome, and tribal leaders are blanching at news that the plant’s owner, Xcel Energy, has petitioned to extend its so-called dry cask storage permission for another 40 years.

The 882-member tribe’s land in southeastern Minnesota is right next to the Prairie Island nuclear power plant.

"They've said it was temporary," Prairie Island Indian Community secretary Ron Johnson told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "This fuel was supposed to have been removed in the 1990s. We translate that to mean it's probably more of a permanent storage facility."

Spent fuel rods are stored at the site, and although nothing is leaking from the outdoor storage casks, that could change, according to an affidavit from John Greeves, a former director of the waste management and environmental protection division of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Statistically, he said, leakage could very well happen, according to the Star-Tribune.

All told, the Star-Tribune said, 15 other power plants in the U.S. are under similar scrutiny as groups nationwide call for the federal government to live up to its promise to designate permanent storage.

The tribe wants the federal government to set a firm deadline for removing the waste and to ensure that there are enough safeguards in place. The reservation is home to 200 tribal members as well as host to up to 8,000 daily visitors at its Treasure Island Resort and Casino, the Star-Tribune said. Studies on long-term storage have not been conducted, the tribe pointed out, because no one expected the rods to be stored long term.

Trust is already an issue for the Prairie Island community, given incidents like the temporary shutdown of one of the facility’s reactors on August 14 when two diesel generators broke down during a routine monthly maintenance test. Failure of the generators, which are in place to help the plant operate during power outages, did not inspire confidence from the tribe even though Xcel assured tribal members that the outage posed no danger.

“Despite these assurances, today’s unplanned shutdown—and the unusual white steam clouds released throughout the day during the reactor shutdown—are ominous reminders of the fact that the 40-year old Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant operating a half-mile from our homes relies on aging technology,” the Prairie Island Indian Community said in a release at the time. “To have not just one, but both of the back-up diesel generators fail is very troubling. A failure of the back-up diesel generators can affect all other safety features that rely on the electricity that they generate. The failure of both of them during a routine monthly test is simply not acceptable.”

The tribe pointed out that more than 30 incidents have been reported over the past few years.

“Our community’s concerns over nuclear power deepen as we learn more about the operations and maintenance issues of the nearly 40-year-old nuclear power plant that sits next to our reservation,” the tribe said in a position paper on its website. “Those concerns are multiplied as new international studies emerge that raise serious question about the health impacts for people living next to nuclear power plants, especially children. And finally, our frustrations continue to grow over the federal government’s failure to live up to its responsibility to adequately address the nuclear waste issue and as more of that toxic waste builds up next to our community.”