Xcel Energy and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) waited four months before notifying the public after a 400,000 gallon radioactive leak at Xcel’s Monticello nuclear plant.
The leak was discovered by Xcel on November 22, 2022, and was immediately reported to the MPCA. Radioactive high-tritium water spilled from a leaky pipe and has seeped into the ground water under the plant. Tritium is a naturally occurring radioactive isotope that shows up in much higher concentrations in water from nuclear power plants.
On March 16th, 2023, Xcel and the MPCA finally notified the public. They defended the delay by saying that the spill was contained, that the public was never at risk, and claimed the reason for delay was to avoid public alarm. Xcel Energy estimates that its ground water pumping efforts over the last 4 months have recovered about 25% of the leaked tritium.
Tritium emits a relatively low-energy form of radiation that is unlikely to cause health problems unless ingested in large quantities. But 400,000 gallons before the spill was noticed is concerning, particularly since it flows toward the Mississippi River, the primary water intakes for the Twin Cities metro area. While a tritium leak may have relatively limited health risks, the lack of public transparency around this leak is shocking. This can’t be repeated when it comes to much more dangerous radioactive waste that will need to be safely stored for hundreds of thousands of years.
When Xcel fully powered down the Monticello nuclear plant for repairs, it caused a significant temperature shock in the river, resulting in a fish kill on March 27th.
This comes nearly 10 years after Monticello plant was repaired in 2013 at a cost to ratepayers initially estimated at $346 million but eventually ballooned to $748 million. This was done to keep the plant operating safely.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission has been and will in the near future be considering extending the operating life of the plant for an additional 10-20 years. Approval would almost certainly require another round of upgrades at a cost to all Minnesotans of hundreds of millions of dollars.
As we look towards Xcel’s next resource plan. Minnesotans need an energy future that doesn't require repeated and expensive power plant repairs with routine cost overruns and prioritized ways to avoids doubling down on the long-term health and safety risks we have already locked in.