Residents living near a Minnesota nuclear power plant have wondered why officials waited nearly four months to notify them of a massive leak of radioactive water from the plant.
About 400,000 gallons of water containing tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, leaked from Xcel Energy’s Monticello nuclear power plant in late November, officials first publicly confirmed on Thursday.
Xcel Energy’s facility is located on the banks of the Mississippi River, approximately 35 miles from Minneapolis. The nearest neighborhood is approximately one mile from the property.
“It happened in November? It would have been nice to know since we live next door to the power plant,” Daniel Fure, a Monticello resident, told local news station KSTP. “The public should know what’s going on. If we don’t know about it, we can’t say anything. We don’t know anything about it.”
Other residents vented their frustration at being left in the dark on the official City of Monticello Facebook page after it shared Xcel Energy’s press release on the incident.
“This is the first time I’ve heard about it. I live very close to the facility. I wish they would check our wells,” wrote Sally Berthiaume.
“Should have been informed of this issue back in November when it took place,” added Shari Sharp Oravetz.
The Independent has reached out to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Minnesota Department of Health and Human Services and Xcel Energy for comment.
The energy company said in a press release that the spilled water is being fully contained at the site. It has not been detected outside of the facility or in local drinking water and poses no health and safety risk to the local community or the environment, the release added.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the state of Minnesota were notified by Xcel Energy on November 22, the same day the leak was confirmed to be present. The leak came from a water pipe that runs between two buildings. To date, 25 percent of the released tritium has been recovered.
The company said the water contained levels of tritium below NRC safety thresholds and that government agencies are monitoring Xcel Energy’s cleanup work.
“We also live and work in the community, and the safety of our hundreds of Monticello employees and the surrounding area is a top priority,” said Theo Keith, an Xcel Energy representative The Independent in an email.
“We recognize the importance of quickly notifying the communities we serve when a situation poses an imminent threat to health and safety. In this case, there was no such threat.
“Now that we’ve thoroughly investigated the issue, contained the leak and worked out a way forward, we’re in a place where we can tell the public not only what’s already been done, but also what we’re doing next.” become . This timing allows us to provide the most accurate and complete understanding of the situation.”
Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that occurs naturally in the environment and is a common by-product of nuclear power plant operations.
According to NRC, it emits a weak form of beta radiation that does not travel very far and cannot penetrate human skin. A person who drank water from a spill would only receive a small dose, the NRC says.
State officials said they were waiting to get more information about the leak before going public with it.
“We knew tritium was present in a monitoring well, but Xcel had not yet identified the source of the leak and its location,” Michael Rafferty, spokesman for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, told The Associated Press.
“Now that we have all the information on where the leak occurred, how much was released into the groundwater, and that contaminated groundwater has migrated beyond the original location, we are sharing that information,” he added.
Mr. Keith also told The Independent that there has been no additional leak of contaminated water at the Monticello Nuclear Power Plant or the Company’s other nuclear facility, Prairie Island, for the past 12 months.
“Many operating nuclear power plants have leaked some level of tritium at some point during their operation. In the late 2000s, a tritium release smaller than this occurred at Monticello and we worked with state agencies to resolve the issue.
“This leak came from a sump and not a pipe like this last one did and we have taken action to reline all of our sumps following this leak,” the statement added.
With reports from The Associated Press