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Minnesota’s Nuclear Generating Plant in Monticello, one of the two nuclear power plants in the state, will be temporarily shut down by its owner, Xcel Energy, on Friday. This is due to the recurrence of a radioactive water leak that was discovered recently, while state regulators were monitoring the effects of a previous spill that occurred four months ago.
Xcel Energy has assured the public that there is no danger to either the environment or the public, and that the tritium-contaminated water leak is contained entirely within the facility. The latest leak involves a few hundred gallons of radioactive water, which is significantly less than the 400,000 gallons that were discovered during the previous incident in late November.
Regulatory agencies seek to address concerns over nuclear plant leak
Xcel Energy reported a non-emergency leak of radioactive water to the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the state on November 22. The company claimed that the leak had no impact on the health and safety of the public or plant personnel. A broken pipe was found to be the source of the leak about a month later, and a temporary solution was devised to contain and reroute the water back to the plant for reuse. In late February, the city was informed about the leak, but state officials only informed the public on March 16, after taking steps to manage the leak over the past four months.
Tritium, a mildly radioactive form of hydrogen, was found in the water. The leak was contained within the property to ensure that it did not contaminate local drinking water or the nearby Mississippi River. Tritium is a naturally occurring radionuclide that is also produced during the production of electricity at nuclear power plants. Although it emits weak radiation, it can be contained within a nuclear site, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. State officials waited to inform the public because they wanted to understand the full scope of the leak, and Xcel had not immediately identified the source.
Xcel Energy said that it understands the importance of informing communities about threats to health and safety but that there was no such threat in this case. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is monitoring groundwater samples for tritium and will inform the public promptly if an imminent risk arises. Xcel Energy said that the new leak prompted it to move up its plan to repair the broken pipe during a regularly scheduled refueling outage in mid-April.
The incident occurred as Xcel Energy was seeking an operating license renewal for Monticello, which is set to expire in September 2030. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission sought to reassure residents at a town hall meeting on the license on Wednesday, saying that there was no reason to have concern for their safety over the leak.
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