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Federal officials: Nuke plant's environmental impacts 'small'

Environmental impacts created by Prairie Island nuclear plant's two reactors are small enough that the plant should be relicensed, according to Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials.

NRC staff met with area residents Wednesday about the office's draft supplemental environmental impact statement, a document outlining potential environmental impacts if federal officials allow the plant to operate another 20 years.

"Impacts of license renewal would be small for the resource areas," said Elaine Keegan, environmental project manager.

Xcel Energy submitted its license renewal application last January. Unit 1's current operating license will expire in August 2013 and Unit 2 in October 2014.

The federal license renewal process proceeds along two tracks - one for review of safety issues, another for environmental issues - and can take up to 30 months.

Xcel officials are also seeking state approval to increase electrical generating capacity and dry cask storage at the plant. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission OK'd Xcel's plan last month. Legislators have the chance to review the issue before the PUC's decision is final.

Keegan said NRC officials determined that not renewing Prairie Island's operating license or using alternative energy sources would have larger environmental impacts than keeping the plant running.

Members of the Prairie Island Indian Community -- who oppose relicensing the plant and argue a national waste repository in Yucca Mountain, Nev., is crucial for safely storing spent waste -- spoke on the record Wednesday about the environmental issues.

"Any small impact is a large impact to our community," said Alan Childs II, Prairie Island Tribal Council vice president. "This environmental study is only a snapshot taken at the time."

Childs said crucial long-term environmental information is not available and should be provided. He also said the tribe would like to see stricter regulations on nuclear plants.

Tribal Council President Victoria Winfrey agreed.

She wondered whether monitoring of the plant is really sufficient and if officials are using the most up-to-date methods and equipment.

"Living only 600 yards from the nuke plant ... it makes you feel like is it really safe, are you really monitoring everything," Winfrey said. "We would like to feel safer, we would like the best of everything because it's close to our community."

Mark Schimmel, Prairie Island's site vice president, said safety - for its employees and the public - and the environment are the nuclear plant's No. 1 concern.

"Prairie Island is more than a power plant," Schimmel said. "It's part of the community."

The public has until Jan. 30 to submit comments on the draft supplemental environmental impact statement, which is available at the Red Wing Public Library or online at

Comments can be submitted by e-mail at