Nuclear Leak at Xcel’s Monticello Plant: Officials Monitor Cleanup
On Thursday, Xcel Energy reported a water leak containing radioactive tritium was found during routine groundwater monitoring on November 22nd at their Monticello Nuclear Generating Plant. The company immediately reported the leak to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and state officials, although the incident was not made public until Thursday. Minnesota state authorities said the leak did not reach the Mississippi River or contaminate drinking water sources, and is not a risk to the general public.
Xcel is diverting water to an in-plant water treatment system to contain the leak, and is pumping contaminated water through extraction wells to both store and reuse on site. The company has recovered 25% of the tritium released and estimates the cleanup process will take a year or more. Xcel is also considering building storage tanks or a retention pond for the project.
Officials from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) are monitoring Xcel’s efforts to clean up the spill. The agencies are also reviewing options for the disposal of the tritium and will be monitoring the groundwater plume at two dozen wells. MPCA Assistant Commissioner Kirk Koudelka said Xcel is paying for sampling, pumping and temporary treatment.
Tritium is a mildly radioactive isotope of hydrogen that is a byproduct of the production of electricity at nuclear plants. It is present in small amounts in the environment, and is also intentionally released from power plants under NRC rules.
According to Viktoria Mitlyng, a representative of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the leak was much lower than the NRC safety standard and the plan was not breaking any rules. She noted that leaks of tritium are not unusual for nuclear facilities.
Edwin Lyman, director of nuclear power safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said that leaks are an issue for aging plants because tritium so easily mixes into water, and that anywhere water might escape from a nuclear plant, tritium could, too.
Monticello released a statement, affirming that its drinking water had not been impacted by the leak, which occurred outside of the area from which their municipal wells draw groundwater. Xcel reported that the highest level of tritium since 2016 was lower than the federal drinking water limit by more than half, even with the seepage.
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