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Xcel seeks change in radioactive waste storage in Red Wing

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FILE — This Sept. 23, 2005 file photo shows the Prairie Island nuclear power plant near Red Wing, Minn.(AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)

RED WING, Minn. (AP) — Xcel Energy wants to change the way it stores radioactive waste at its Prairie Island nuclear plant in Red Wing, a move it says will cut costs and make it easier to transport the spent fuel for storage outside Minnesota.

The Minneapolis-based utility is asking state regulators for permission to use a different type of storage cask, as long as the design is approved by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The casks used to store waste at Prairie Island are a bolted metal design known as TN-40, chosen in 1989. Xcel’s director of nuclear regulatory policy, Pam Gorman Prochaska, says Prairie Island is the last plant still using that kind of cask.

It’s a design that is not accepted at two interim storage sites in Texas and New Mexico.

Most plants in the U.S., including Xcel’s Monticello facility, use a system of welded steel canisters that slide into a concrete bunker. Prochaska said the interim storage sites accept the canisters.

Xcel has said its two nuclear plants in Minnesota are key to achieving its goal of producing carbon-free electricity by 2050. Unlike fossil fuel-fired power plants, nuclear reactors do not produce direct carbon dioxide emissions, which contribute to climate change, Minnesota Public Radio News reported.

The Public Utilities Commission authorized Xcel to more than double the amount of waste it stores at Prairie Island to 64 casks in 2009. Currently, 47 casks at the plant have been loaded with spent fuel, Prochaska said.

Xcel plans to continue operating the Prairie Island nuclear reactors through the end of their current licenses, which expire in 2033 and 2034.

Prochaska said a draft environmental impact statement will be completed and will be followed by additional public hearings before the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission decides on the request.

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