Xcel Energy Reports Leak at Monticello Nuclear Plant, Takes Steps to Clean Up and Monitor Contamination
On Nov. 22, 2022, Xcel Energy reported a water leak at its Monticello nuclear plant to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The leak was confirmed and immediately reported to the NRC and state officials, and Xcel began diverting the water to an in-plant water treatment system.
The contaminated water contained tritium, an isotope of hydrogen that produces low levels of radiation, and is commonly created in the operation of nuclear power plants. According to Xcel, the leak was contained on-site and did not reach the Mississippi River or contaminate any drinking water sources. Minnesota state agencies are monitoring Xcel's efforts to recover and treat the contaminated water.
Xcel is pumping contaminated water through extraction wells, some of which are being reused on the site. The company is also considering options to dispose of the collected tritium, and Minnesota state agencies will review those options. Xcel estimates it has recovered about 25 percent of the tritium released and will continue recovery over the next year.
The leak report comes as Xcel is asking federal regulators to extend Monticello’s operating license through 2050. The company is paying for sampling, pumping, and temporary treatment of the contaminated water, and officials say there is no evidence at this time indicating a risk to any drinking water wells near the plant.
Tritium levels from the Monticello leak are well below safety thresholds set by the NRC, and the plant is not breaking regulations, according to Viktoria Mitlyng, a spokeswoman for the NRC. Edwin Lyman, director of nuclear power safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said leaks are an issue for aging plants because tritium so easily mixes into water.
Xcel is working to clean up the spill and insists there is no danger to the general public. The firm reported that they are keeping track of the groundwater plume at 24 well points and are also extracting polluted groundwater for storage. Xcel could build above-ground storage tanks or install a retention pond to store water containing tritium that has been collected during ongoing recovery activities.
Overall, state authorities are working with Xcel Energy to ensure the local community’s and surrounding environment’s continued safety. The company is conducting more frequent tests from some two dozen groundwater monitoring wells in and around the site.
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