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Kline addresses energy problems

U.S. Rep. John Kline, locked in a re-election contest with Steve Sarvi -- who like Kline is a war veteran with sterling military credentials -- sought Monday to display his solutions to energy problems.

Kline, a Republican who consistently earns one of the lowest rankings in Congress from the League of Conservation Voters, promoted his "real energy solutions" through his Minnesota Second District Energy Tour.

The invitation-only tour included stops at the Prairie Island nuclear plant and the Red Wing incinerator, as well as the Apply Valley transit station, Pine Bend oil refinery, Hastings hydropower plant and Carlton College wind turbine.

At Prairie Island, Kline listened as Mike Wadley, site vice president at the nuclear plant, explained the problem of spent nuclear fuel elements.

Each of Prairie Islands's two reactors has 121 fuel elements, one-third of which are replaced every 18 months. With no place else to put them, they are stored in above-ground casks next to the power plant -- only a few hundred yards from Prairie Island Indian Community homes.

Those spent fuel elements keep adding up. Minnesota has licensed Prairie Island to store 29 spent elements; the site has 24 in storage now, Wadley said. Relicensing would allow 64 fuel elements to be stored at Prairie Island.

"The storage issues we deal with on a daily basis we didn't contemplate when the plant was built," Wadley said, adding that it was imperative that the Yucca Mountain nuclear storage facility in Nevada be allowed to go ahead.

"If I could make it happen tomorrow, I would," Kline said.

"Some of us have been pushing for Yucca Mountain for a long time," he added. "It's not moving ahead because of politics. It makes sense to me to take the spent fuel and move it out there rather than leave it here on an island in the Mississippi River."

Kline stood at the gate to the cask storage yard to make the point that the storage yard is safe. "It's pretty clear that nuclear power is safe and clean," he said.

Kline said politics was all that was keeping Yucca Mountain from opening. He cited Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, a Democrat, as a prime opponent.

Next stop on the tour was the Red Wing incinerator, where Rick Moskwa, deputy director of the Public Works Department, gave an impassioned description of the virtues of incinerating garbage. Moskwa noted that the incinerator is one of a kind in that it produces steam for an industrial concern, the S.B. Foot Tannery next door.

The incinerator is powered almost entirely by garbage, he said, with natural gas used only to start and stop it, and its only waste product is an ash that has mercury, dioxins and other pollutants bound up in carbon.

The next stage, Moskwa said, is a new drying facility for biosolids, the stuff left over from wastewater treatment plants. Currently, he said, liquid biosolids cannot be used directly on crops. If dried, they could be used by farmers and others like any other fertilizer.

About 30 municipalities in Minnesota and Wisconsin are participating in the new biosolids drying project, but the venture needs some help. Could the federal government provide aid, Moskwa asked Kline directly.

Kline suggested applying for grants.

"The use of conservation and energy production looks unique here," he said. "There are places to look for grants."

Kline said his agenda favors increasing domestic oil and gas production, including drilling in deep offshore waters and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; promoting hybrid cars and alternative fuels; more rapid transit, especially buses; and promoting energy efficient building methods in homes and businesses.

Asked if he intended to promote legislation to help owners of existing buildings retrofit for energy efficiency, Kline said retrofitting was a good idea but he had no plans to introduce legislation. Tax incentives could better be used for such projects, he said.