PRAIRIE ISLAND, Minn., March 18, 2003 — The Prairie Island Tribal Council and Xcel Energy on Tuesday reached a tentative agreement that addresses many of the tribe’s long-standing health and safety concerns, including a health study, improved evacuation and land for tribal members who wish to move a safer distance from Xcel’s nuclear facilities.
The proposed agreement potentially resolves the tribe’s legal authority to limit nuclear waste storage near its reservation and could allow Xcel to operate its Prairie Island nuclear power plant at least until its reactor licenses expire in 10 years. Tribal members still must approve the agreement during a special community referendum.
“In a perfect world we would never again need to be concerned about nuclear power or nuclear waste,” said Audrey Bennett, president of the Prairie Island Tribal Council. “But we need to be pragmatic, and this agreement helps make a bad situation better by providing us with the resources we need to improve our safety and build a more promising future for our young people.”
Specifically, the agreement, if adopted, would provide the tribe: $1 million per year for as long as the plant operates; $450,000 every year for as long as nuclear waste is stored on Prairie Island unless it’s for decommissioning purposes; $700,000 per year for 10 years to help with evacuation improvements and the acquisition and development of new land; $100,000 per year for 10 years to help pay for a health study and emergency management activities. Xcel also agrees that the nuclear waste must be moved from Prairie Island as soon as an alternative site is available and that no waste from other sites can be stored at Prairie Island.
The agreement hinges on the Minnesota Legislature allowing Xcel Energy enough storage at Prairie Island to keep the plant operating at least until its reactor licenses expire in 2013 and 2014. The state currently limits the amount of nuclear waste that can be stored on Prairie Island to 17 casks. The Prairie Island Indian Community also has legal standing to enforce the storage limit, which it will retain if the agreement becomes void. If Xcel isn’t allowed additional storage, the Prairie Island plant will be forced to close within five years.
“This is a very important decision for our community and one that could forever impact our people,” added Bennett. “We can either try to manage the threat to our community by enforcing the storage limit or we can try to manage it by accepting an agreement that improves our safety. Our Tribal Council believes this agreement is the best alternative for our people.”
The Prairie Island Indian Community is located just 600 yards from Xcel Energy’s Prairie Island nuclear power plant and nuclear waste storage site. Adding to the tribe’s concerns, there is only one evacuation route off Prairie Island and passing trains often block it. The Prairie Island Indian Community is a third-party beneficiary to the 1994 agreement between the state and Xcel Energy that allows up to 17 casks of nuclear waste to be stored at Prairie Island. The tribe has legal standing to enforce this agreement.
The Prairie Island community referendum is expected to be completed April 17, 2003.
The Prairie Island Indian Community is a federally recognized Indian Nation, located 50 minutes southeast of the Twin Cities along the Mississippi River.