Some students, alumni and groups shun nuclear

Despite a recent push for nuclear power, some prefer investment in renewable energy.

by Hailey Colwell

Despite a recent push from scientists to create safer nuclear power, some University of Minnesota students, alumni and environmental groups don’t think it’s worth the time and money.

Four top climate scientists wrote letters earlier this month urging environmental groups and policy leaders to support development of safer nuclear energy to cut fossil fuel emissions, the Associated Press reported. But some locals disagree, saying priority should be given to renewable energy development.

Renewable energy sources alone won’t be able to cut fossil fuel production fast enough, the scientists said.

Nuclear generators create heat by splitting uranium atoms instead of burning fossil fuels like coal, natural gas or oil. But the resulting waste is often stored underground, making some local environmentalists concerned about the waste’s toxicity and radioactivity.

“I’m not sure that safe nuclear power exists,” said Rob Sargent, who advises the energy program for Environment Minnesota.

Michelle Rosier, senior campaign and organizing manager at the Sierra Club’s Minneapolis-based North Star Chapter, said the club has long advocated against Minnesota building any new nuclear power plants.

Freshman and Fossil Free Minnesota member Noah Shavit-Lonstein said though nuclear power could be an option later, he’d like to see funds invested in wind or solar power before beforehand.

“Renewables should come first,” Shavit-Lonstein said.

Fossil Free member Roland Welter said exploring safer nuclear power is a good idea, but producers would need to be tightly monitored.

“If we don’t regulate them properly, they can produce disasters,” he said.

Recent University alumna Patty O’Keefe, an advisor to Fossil Free, said she has mixed feelings on nuclear energy development.

While some see nuclear as a bridge between fossil fuels and renewable sources, the decision to use it shouldn’t be taken lightly, she said.

“We do need to be considering bridge fuels, but we need to do it with extreme caution and care,” she said.

O’Keefe said bridge fuel research and examining the nation’s current energy consumption deserve equal funding.

“Research is great, but this nation’s been researching nuclear power since the 1940s” and it hasn’t been successful on a commercial scale, said Dan Endreson, program coordinator at Clean Water Action Alliance of Minnesota.

Minnesota has potential for renewable energy, Endreson said, and there’s more value in studying renewable technologies that don’t come from the ground.

Minnesota is on the U.S. Department of Energy’s list of potential places to build nuclear waste repository sites.

Xcel Energy will continue using nuclear power for the next 20 years, along with wind, solar and hydropower resources, a statement from the company said.

In 1994, the state Legislature passed a moratorium on building any new nuclear power plants.

Because nuclear plants produce energy constantly, Xcel doesn’t expect to need a new plant until about 2025, the statement said.

“We do think it would make sense to be able to consider nuclear power as one option among all the rest for meeting future energy needs, and that would require the moratorium to be lifted,” the Xcel statement said.


The Associated Press
contributed to this report.