Xcel to power down Monticello nuclear plant after new contaminated water leak

Xcel Energy is working to power down the Monticello nuclear power plant on Friday to make repairs after a new leak of radioactive water was reported this week.

The company said the new leak is estimated to be in the hundreds of gallons, much smaller than the first leak of approximately 400,000 gallons which was reported in November 2022. Monitoring equipment at the plant on Wednesday indicated a "small amount of new water from the original leak had reached the groundwater," according to a statement released Thursday night.

Officials say they determined a temporary solution put in place after the initial leak, intended to contain the contaminated water, was no longer working. Now Xcel Energy is shutting down the plant to make repairs to "permanently resolve" the radioactive water leak, earlier than they had previously scheduled. The leak was set to be fixed in April, during a previously scheduled refueling period during which the plant would be offline.

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"While the leak continues to pose no risk to the public or the environment, we determined the best course of action is to power down the plant and perform the permanent repairs immediately," wrote Chris Clark, president of Xcel Energy–Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. "We are continuing to work with and inform our state, federal, city and county leaders in the process."

The company said the power plant shutting down shouldn't impact customer electric service. The schedule for resuming operations at the plant has yet to be determined. 

Xcel Energy said the leaked water has remained onsite and has not been detected beyond the facility or in any local drinking water. So far, officials say an estimated 32% of the tritium released during the initial leak has been recovered so far.

While concerning, tritium is not exceptionally dangerous. The company writes: "Tritium is a compound that is naturally present in the environment and is commonly created in the operation of nuclear power plants. It emits low levels of radiation, similar to everyday materials people use and the food we all eat."

Minnesota officials issue statement on new leak

"The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Minnesota Department of Health are encouraged that Xcel Energy is taking immediate action to address the recurring issue of water containing tritium leaking from the Monticello Nuclear Generating Plant.

"State agencies were made aware this afternoon of an additional water leak at the Monticello facility following previous news about the leak of 400,000 gallons of water containing tritium. In the State Duty Office report filed today, Xcel Energy states that the new leak, located near the spot of the previously reported release, is still ongoing.

"State agencies have no evidence at this point to indicate a current or imminent risk to the public and will continue to monitor groundwater samples. Should an imminent risk arise, we will inform the public promptly. 

"We encourage the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which has regulatory oversight of the plant’s operations, to share ongoing public communications on the leak and on mitigation efforts to help residents best understand the situation.

"The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Minnesota Department of Health will continue to review Xcel’s response to the groundwater contamination and oversee the recovery, storage, and disposal of the impacted groundwater. We will also continue to coordinate with city, county, and other local officials to make sure the public is kept informed of developments."