The owner of one of Minnesota’s two nuclear power plants said he will temporarily shut down the facility on Friday to repair a recurring leak of radioactive water discovered this week as state regulators assess the effects of an initial spill four followed months ago.
Excel energy said in a press release Thursday that there is “no risk to the public or the environment” in the latest incident at the Monticello nuclear power plant.
The company added that the leak of water containing tritium, a mildly radioactive form of hydrogen, “has been completely contained on site and has not been detected outside the facility or in local drinking water.” This second leak involved hundreds of gallons of radioactive water, according to the utility, far less than the 400,000 gallons discovered in late November.
But some Monticello residents around the plant — located 38 miles northwest of Minneapolis and upstream of the Mississippi River — say they are concerned about what a recurring leak could bring and the delay in discovering the first leak.
“I think the general public needs to be more informed about this,” said Megan Sanborn, 31, who lives 6 miles upstream from the nuclear power plant.
“My kids go to school 2 miles downstream from the power plant,” she added. “If the water levels were safe all the time, as they said, where was the transparency?”
Excel energy notified the Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the state on Nov. 22, a day after it confirmed the leak, as a “non-emergency report” with “no impact on the health and safety of the public or plant personnel.” It said the source of the leak was found about a month later in a broken pipe between two buildings, and a temporary solution had been devised to contain the water and return it to the plant for reuse.
The municipality was informed about the leak at the end of February. But it wasn’t until March 16 that state officials told the public and Xcel Energy announced it had been taking steps over the past four months to contain and contain the leak.
“After the company notified the state, it was a hush-hush situation,” Sanborn said. “No one from the state has informed residents that we had a nuclear leak, and if we are unable to overcome a potential impact because no one told us, it is a major concern for residents. “
Xcel Energy said it has checked to make sure the underground plume of tritium stays within the property and doesn’t contaminate local drinking water or the nearby Mississippi River, which flows every winter. attracts hundreds of trumpeter swans lured by the hot water discharged by the nuclear power plant.
Tritium occurs naturally in the environment, but also results from the production of electricity in nuclear power plants, This is reported by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commissionwho says it is “one of the least dangerous radionuclides because it emits very weak radiation and leaves the body relatively quickly.”
Plus, it says, “tritium radiation doesn’t travel very far in the air and can’t penetrate the skin.”
According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, tritium releases do occur occasionally, but they are usually within a nuclear site.
State officials said they waited to notify the public because they wanted to understand the full scope of the leak and Xcel had not immediately identified the source.
In a previous statement, Xcel Energy said it also understands the “importance of promptly informing the communities we serve if a situation poses an imminent threat to health and safety,” but that “in this case, no such threat existed.” .
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, which monitors environmental quality, said Thursday it is “encouraged” that Xcel Energy is taking immediate steps to fix the new leak and will continue to monitor groundwater samples for tritium.
“Should an imminent risk arise, we will immediately inform the public,” the agency said in a statement, adding that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which has regulatory oversight over the plant’s operations, will “continue public communication about the leak and over limitation should share”. efforts to help residents understand the situation as best as possible.”
Xcel Energy said electrical service is not expected to impact its customers. Initially, the company said it planned to permanently repair the broken pipe during a regularly scheduled refueling stoppage in mid-April, but the new leak prompted the plan to be pushed back.
The incident comes as Xcel Energy is seeking an extension of the operating license for Monticello. The license expires in September 2030.
At a town hall meeting on the permit on Wednesday, before the latest leak was publicly known, officials from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission tried to allay residents’ fears.
“There’s no need to worry about their safety,” said Valerie Myers, a physicist and superintendent for the commission. NBC affiliate KARE in Minneapolis.
“If we tried to make public announcements about anything nuclear because everything seems nuclear scary, we would bomb everyone,” she added.