New radioactive water leak prompts Minnesota utility to shut a nuclear power plant early for repairs
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Xcel Energy will start to power down its nuclear plant in Monticello, Minn. several weeks earlier than planned after more radioactive water leaked out of the facility, CBS Minnesota reports.
The company says it will shut down the facility starting Friday so crews can begin to make permanent repairs after 400,000 gallons of radioactive water leaked out beneath the facility late last year.
On Wednesday, the plant’s monitoring equipment detected that more radioactive water, hundreds of gallons, had leaked out since crews made temporary repairs, and said “a small amount from the original leak had reached the groundwater.” Officials say the contaminated water, containing the radioactive isotope tritium, hasn’t yet reached the Mississippi River, which runs next to the plant.
Xcel reported the initial leak to state officials in November of 2022, but the public wasn’t informed until last week.
State officials and the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission defended the choice to delay public notification for months, with NRC officials saying it wasn’t warranted due to its small scale.
Valerie Myers, a health physicist with the NRC, told CBS Minnesota last week that the amount of tritium that’s in the water is negligible.
“If we look at the dose impact of something like this, it would be a fraction of a milligram. I’m talking 0.00-something milligrams. The average person will get 300 milligram in a year just from the sun, the ground, everything,” Myers said.
Xcel says, “Tritium is a compound that is naturally present in the environment and is commonly created in the operation of nuclear power plants. It emits low levels of radiation, similar to everyday materials people use and the food we all eat.”
Xcel says powering down the plant will make it easier for crews to “permanently resolve” the leak, which occurred in a water pipe between two buildings at the plant about 42 miles northwest of Minneapolis.
“To date, Xcel Energy has recovered about 32% of the tritium released and will continue recovery over the course of the next year. The schedule for resuming operation at the plant is still to be determined,” the company said Thursday.
The company insists the leak poses no risk to neighbors or the environment, and the shutdown isn’t expected to impact electric service.
Xcel will hold two open hours at the Monticello Community Center to answer questions, on Friday and Monday.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency released this statement on the shutdown Thursday night:
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Minnesota Department of Health are encouraged that Xcel Energy is taking immediate action to address the recurring issue of water containing tritium leaking from the Monticello Nuclear Generating Plant.
State agencies were made aware this afternoon of an additional water leak at the Monticello facility following previous news about the leak of 400,000 gallons of water containing tritium. In the State Duty Office report filed today, Xcel Energy states that the new leak, located near the spot of the previously reported release, is still ongoing.
State agencies have no evidence at this point to indicate a current or imminent risk to the public and will continue to monitor groundwater samples. Should an imminent risk arise, we will inform the public promptly.
We encourage the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which has regulatory oversight of the plant’s operations, to share ongoing public communications on the leak and on mitigation efforts to help residents best understand the situation.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Minnesota Department of Health will continue to review Xcel’s response to the groundwater contamination and oversee the recovery, storage, and disposal of the impacted groundwater. We will also continue to coordinate with city, county, and other local officials to make sure the public is kept informed of developments.”