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It's time for more nuclear

With a new Republican-controlled Minnesota Legislature, the state's long-standing ban on new nuclear plants is finally getting a hearing. That's good, because it should be repealed as the GOP suggests.

Opponents of nuclear power are quick to point to disasters like Chernobyl and (nearly) Three Mile Island as reasons we should never build another nuclear power plant. They call it "risky" and "expensive."

While it's true that it is expensive to build a nuclear power plant, much of that is the red tape necessary to secure permits and do proper planning. Once built, nuclear plants produce baseload energy at a very reasonable rate.

And the word "baseload" is key here. Certainly, if we lived in a perfect world (we don't), then technologies like wind energy and solar would be the cheapest (they aren't), and would produce electricity around the clock (they don't.) When the sun doesn't shine, or the wind doesn't blow, people still like their air conditioning, still turn on their televisions, still want the lights to go on when they flip the switch. That's what baseload is: the amount of power that electric utilities must have "at the ready" for when consumers demand it. While solar and wind are great, clean producers of energy, they cannot be counted on for baseload electricity.

That leaves us with the options of burning coal or burning natural gas, which can be done whether the sun is shining or not. Or it leaves us with nuclear energy, a very efficient producer of baseload energy.

Are there risks to nuclear energy? Sure there are, but those risks are not nearly as great with today's engineering and technology.

And what about that nuclear waste, that nasty stuff that never goes away? At one time, our nation tried to develop a storage facility at Yucca Mountain; however, as the years have gone by that appears more fantasy than reality. On-site storage would be necessary, though the amount of unspent nuclear material is far less today than it was decades ago when most of the U.S. plants were built.

And what about the environment? A 2007 "60 Minutes" story reported nuclear power gives France the cleanest air of any industrialized country, and the cheapest electricity in all of Europe.

When it comes to power generation, we need to stop looking for one silver-bullet, utopian solution. There's a place for coal, solar, wind and yes, nuclear power in America's portfolio. If it passes the Legislature, the governor has not said whether he would sign or veto the GOP's bill. We think he should sign it.