Nuclear Positions

An Unresolved Public Safety, Health and Environmental Threat

Key Positions

  • The Prairie Island Indian Community calls on the federal government to keep its promise to remove nuclear waste from Prairie Island and the 65 nuclear power plant sites around the country by creating one or more deep geologic repositories to store and dispose of nuclear waste.
  • While not opposed to nuclear power as an energy source, the Prairie Island Indian Community opposes any expansion of the nuclear power industry – including the lifting of Minnesota’s moratorium on nuclear power – until the federal government keeps its promise and creates a permanent national solution for dealing with nuclear waste.
  • In the absence of a federal repository, any increase in generating capacity or approved storage at the Xcel Prairie Island Nuclear Power Plant is irresponsible.
  • Emergency preparedness at and near nuclear facilities must be enhanced to protect against potentially significant threats to public safety, including enhancement of local and tribal law enforcement and emergency response capabilities.
  • The Prairie Island Indian Community calls on the federal government to urgently support new national research about potential health risks for people living near nuclear facilities.


The United States government has failed to develop an honest and adequate nuclear energy policy. While the reliance on nuclear power continues, the federal government has broken its promise – and failed to meet its legal obligation – to create a deep geological repository for nuclear waste. As a result, Minnesota and 32 other states are forced to continue accommodating highly radioactive waste at more than 60 temporary nuclear storage facilities across the country.

Located 30 miles southeast of the Twin Cities along the Mississippi River, the Prairie Island Indian Community is among the closest communities in the nation to a nuclear power plant and temporary nuclear waste storage site. Xcel Energy’s aging 40-year-old Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant – and 29 dry casks “temporarily” storing highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel – currently sit on Mdewakanton Dakota ancestral land just 600 yards from tribal members’ homes.

Decades of local storage with no national solution in sight puts communities like the Prairie Island Indian Community and surrounding areas at considerable risk, exposing all of us to the vulnerabilities of aging facilities, human error, natural disasters and even acts of terrorism. The plant has already experienced two radiological leaks, tritium leaks and contamination. Over the past several years, there have been incidents like security breaches, human and operating errors and failing equipment reported on average at least once a month.

Fukushima Daiichi – Lessons to Learn

Given the tribe’s proximity to the nuclear plant and storage casks on Prairie Island, the Fukushima tragedy brought a renewed sense of urgency to the potential crisis in our own backyard. We look to our elected officials and nuclear regulators to closely analyze the Fukushima tragedy and implement all appropriate safeguards to ensure our Community is not rendered uninhabitable for generations.

As we witnessed in the Fukushima tragedy, natural disasters can precipitate a nuclear crisis and can make containing the damage nearly impossible. Prairie Island and its above ground casks of nuclear waste are not only immediately adjacent to tribal members’ homes, but are also along a recognized flood plain of the Mississippi River – a river that flows through 10 states before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico.

To improve the emergency plans currently in place, we believe additional first responders are needed on Prairie Island. Currently, Prairie Island receives its emergency fire service from the city of Red Wing – with a significant response time for calls to the island. What’s more, our Community’s only evacuation route off the island is frequently blocked by passing trains. Brake problems are a regular occurrence and more than half of the trains exceed a mile in length, holding up traffic and even emergency vehicles coming on and off the island.

National Repository – A Safe and Secure Solution

Thirty years after Congress passed the National Nuclear Waste Policy Act and mandated the establishment of a deep geologic waste repository, the future of the nation’s nuclear waste disposal program remains unresolved. Meantime, toxic waste continues to accumulate under varying security levels at “temporary” storage sites across the country, including Prairie Island and Monticello.

It is unfair to continue burdening Minnesota communities with the significant public safety threat created by the federal government’s broken promise to remove nuclear waste to geologic repositories. No efforts to expand the nuclear power industry should be considered until the federal government takes action to address the existing problem of nuclear waste.

Desired Outcomes

The federal government must deliver on its promise to move the nation’s nuclear waste to a safe, secure facility before it embraces this so-called nuclear power renaissance and turns to nuclear power as a preferred energy source. Furthermore, it is imperative that the federal government mandate that any plant in operation be required to demonstrate that its equipment and operation standards are modernized and use the latest science and procedures to protect public safety.

Until this happens, we believe it is irresponsible for any state, including Minnesota, to entertain building new power plants. In the interim, it is important our concerns are addressed, including:

  • Assurance that nuclear waste will be removed from
    Prairie Island as soon as possible
  • Assistance with acquiring new land away from the plant
    and putting the land into trust
  • Improved communication between plant officials and
    the tribal government, including priority notifications
    of unusual events, increased emergency planning
    involvement and better coordination between plant
    security and tribal police

Prairie Island Nuclear Power Timeline

Xcel Energy’s Prairie Island nuclear power plant and nuclear waste storage site is located just 600 yards from the Prairie Island Indian Community.

Prairie Island Nuclear Power Timeline


    • Northern States Power Company’s (NSP) Prairie Island nuclear power plant officially opens as the first nuclear reactor goes online.


    • NSP’s second nuclear reactor goes online.

October 1979

    • A tube rupture in a steam generator at NSP Prairie Island plant resulted in the release of radioactive gases and the declaration of a general emergency at the plant. The tribe was not informed of the incident.


    • Facing unresolved spent nuclear fuel storage problems, NSP announces that it will develop a dry cask storage facility at the Prairie Island plant.

August 1990

    • NSP submits a license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for an on-site dry cask storage facility.

April 1991

    • NSP files a Certificate of Need application with the Public Utilities Commission (PUC). PUC approval is needed to temporarily store the spent fuel until it is removed by the Department of Energy (DOE). The application’s key issues include the inadequacy of NSP’s storage capacity (and its impact on the generation of electricity) and the DOE’s lack of movement on a permanent nuclear waste repository.

August 1992

    • The PUC grants limited Certificate of Need to NSP (17 casks, rather than the requested 48 because of DOE’s delay on developing a national repository).

June 1993

    • The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the PUC’s finding that the dry cask storage facility would be in the public interest and found that, according to the Radioactive Waste Management Act, legislative approval for the facility would be necessary.

May 1994

    • The Minnesota Legislature approves use of 17 casks, but adds conditions, including that NSP must search for a new storage site in Goodhue County away from Prairie Island and NSP must make commitments to develop renewable energy sources. The Legislature requires the state and NSP to sign a binding contract, giving the Prairie Island Indian Community third-party standing to enforce the legislation.

May 1995

    • The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) authorizes NSP to load the first cask. NSP begins the loading process immediately.

January 1996

    • The Prairie Island Indian Community and NSP bring to the state Legislature an agreement that would allow NSP to keep the storage casks on Prairie Island in return for compensation to the community, including the option to relocate tribal members. The Legislature rejects the deal.

July 1996

    • The U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia rules that the DOE must honor its obligation to begin accepting the nation’s nuclear waste by Jan. 31, 1998.

August 1996

    • NSP files an application with the NRC for an off-site storage facility in Florence Township, in accordance with the 1994 legislation.

October 1996

    • The Minnesota Environmental Quality Board (EQB) denies NSP’s request to certify the Florence Township site and says that the safest place to store nuclear waste is on Prairie Island next to the reservation. In addition, the EQB authorizes NSP to fill the next four casks with nuclear waste.

October 1996

    • The Prairie Island Indian Community appeals the EQB decision to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, arguing that the EQB acted beyond its legislative mandate. The appeal was denied.

January 1998

    • DOE’s deadline to accept nuclear waste passes. DOE has not even determined what standards a national repository must meet, even though it has been collecting money from utilities since 1982 to build a permanent repository.

April 1999

    • NSP has loaded nine casks with spent nuclear fuel and expects to fill the tenth in early 2000.

September 11, 2001

    • The events of Sept. 11 create an ongoing threat of terrorism against nuclear power plants in the United States – adding to the concern of the Prairie Island Community that has only one permanent evacuation route off the island in the event of an accident or attack.

Spring 2002

    • DOE recommends Yucca Mountain as a national repository for spent nuclear fuel. Congress later overrides the state of Nevada’s veto of the project and allows the NRC to consider licensing Yucca Mountain. The project faces numerous legal challenges.

Summer 2002

    • Xcel Energy (formerly NSP) fills all 17 casks, the maximum licensed by the state of Minnesota. The utility’s twin reactors are licensed to operate until 2013 and 2014. The plant has enough onsite pool storage to remain operational until 2007.

December 2002

    • Xcel Energy files its 2002 Resource Plan with the PUC and discloses its preference to continue operating the Prairie Island nuclear plant. The utility indicates that it likely will seek permission from the Minnesota Legislature to exceed the 17-cask storage limitation at Prairie Island. The Prairie Island Indian Community reaffirms its opposition to nuclear waste storage and cites the 1994 agreement giving the tribe authority to enforce the storage limitations.

March 2003

    • Prairie Island negotiates a settlement with Xcel Energy allowing enough additional storage capacity for the plant to operate until its reactor licenses expire; in exchange, Xcel Energy provides compensation to address some of the tribe’s health and safety needs.

May 2006

    • About 100 workers at the Prairie Island plant were exposed to radiation when contaminated gas leaked from a steam generator and forced a 12-hour evacuation. The public (including the tribe) was not notified of the accident until a week later.

April 2008

    • Xcel seeks to re-license the Prairie Island plant, submitting an application to the NRC for a 20-year license extension.

June 2008

    • The Prairie Island Indian Community signs a first-of-its-kind Memoradum of Understanding with the NRC, allowing the tribe to work with the NRC to review potential environmental impacts of the proposed license renewal.


    • President Obama slashed funding for Yucca Mountain, the nation’s national nuclear waste repository..

December 2009

    • The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) grants a certificate of need for increased generating capacity and additional dry cask storage at the Prairie Island nuclear plant. The Prairie Island Indian Community and the City of Red Wing file an appeal of the PUC order. The appeal is rejected.

January 2010

    • President Obama issues an executive order creating the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Future.

March 2010

    • The U.S. Department of Energy announces plans to terminate Yucca Mountain as a repository and requests its license application be withdrawn. The NRC denies this request.


    • Nearly three dozen reported incidents or mishaps occurred at the aging, nearly 40-year old Prairie Island nuclear plant.

March 2011

    • The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant goes through a series of disasters following the tsunami in Japan. The tragedy is a reminder to Minnesotans about the dangers and risks associated with nuclear waste and uncontrollable natural disasters.

June 2012

    • The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for D.C. found the NRC’s nuclear waste storage rule making process deficient as it did not take into account the lack of a permanent storage facility.

August 2012

    • The U.S. District Court of Appeals for D.C. stated the NRC is required by law to continue efforts to license Yucca Mountain.

      The Prairie Island Indian Community files a petition to intervene in Xcel Energy’s application to renew the Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation license for an additional 40 years.

October 2012

    • The Prairie Island Indian Community signs a Memorandum of Understanding with the NRC, allowing the tribe to once again work with the NRC to review potential environmental impacts of renewing the spent fuel storage facility license at the Prairie Island nuclear plant.

December 2012

    • The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board grants the Prairie Island Indian Community standing to intervene in Xcel Energy’s application to renew the license of the Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation on Prairie Island.


    • Twenty-nine dry casks filled with 1.5 million pounds of nuclear waste sit outside the Prairie Island plant with no permanent storage solution.

    • The U.S. Department of Energy submits a license application for Yucca Mountain.


  • The earliest date DOE expects to begin receiving the nation’s spent nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain (if the project is licensed).