redefining nuclear energy in hopes of transitioning to a society run on carbon-free electricity

The History of Nuclear Energy

Majority of the systems in use today are based off of a water cooled nuclear reactor designed for submarine propulsion during WWII and with that the byproducts could be used for nuclear weapons. Alternative types of nuclear reactors exist today that use different types of coolants and radioactive elements that have furthered development of failsafe mechanics and tools for disposal of radioactive waste.

Minnesota’s Nuclear Reactors

Minnesota Law states that the no new nuclear facilities can be built. This law was passed in 1994, and included a plan for nuclear storage in Minnesota as well as funding for renewable energy. In the early 1970s, Minnesota’s main utility built two nuclear power plants: the Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant and the Monticello Nuclear Generating Plant. The Prairie Island Nuclear facility has two pressurized water reactors, and Monticello has one boiling water reactor. Together, these three reactors provide 1771 MW of power. In the late 1980s, Prairie Island was running out of space to store spent waste in their current facilities, so they requested permission to use temporary dry casks to store spent waste. The Mdewakanton Prairie Island Indian community and environmental groups thought the dry casks should be classified as permanent, and that permission from the Legislation was necessary for the utility to use them. In 1993, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that the issue of the use of these dry casks would be settled in the Legislature. In 1994, the Legislature passed a law allowing the utility’s use of the dry casks, with some provisions to advance responsible energy generation. One of these provisions was the aforementioned moratorium on nuclear power plant construction. The utility also had to “create a renewable development account and to transfer to that account “$500,000 each year for each dry cask containing spent fuel that is located at the independent spent fuel storage installation at Prairie Island after January 1, 1999″”.

This development account has funded a lot of renewable energy research. Of note is an outreach grant to a cooperative wind power project. Xcel Energy granted Hilltop Energy $1.2 million for the construction of a wind turbine in Lyon County, Iowa. This community based economic development project was unique in its small scale, and they encountered some problems in the initial planning phase, but the wind turbine successfully went on the grid in February, 2009. The energy sales from this single wind turbine have been benefiting an educational scholarship program in the Prairie Island Indian community, and none of this would have happened without the renewable development fund.

The Monticello Nuclear Power Plant, Minnesota. Photo source

As Xcel is now talking about closing its nuclear power plant in Monticello, it is important to examine what nuclear energy has done for us and can continue to do. The Monticello nuclear power plant has the capability of producing 671 MW, which is enough energy to power 500,000 homes. Many recently decommissioned nuclear power plants were replaced by fossil fuel plants, so it is important to analyze whether we really want to decommission these plants, and, if we do, what we would replace them with. This report will go through many aspects of nuclear energy, and will analyze nuclear energy’s potential in a renewable future.


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Golte-Schroeder, S. (2011, December 3). The science behind how a nuclear meltdown occurs | DW | 12.03.2011. Retrieved April 26, 2018, from

United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission. (2014, December 12). Backgrounder on the Three Mile Island Accident. Retrieved April 26, 2018, from

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