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Regulators monitor tritium leak at nuclear power plant in Minnesota

ST. PAUL, Minnesota (AP) — Minnesota regulators said Thursday they are monitoring a leak of 400,000 gallons of radioactive water from Xcel Energy’s Monticello nuclear power plant, and the company said there is no danger to the public.

“Xcel Energy took swift action to contain the leak to a plant site that does not pose a risk to the health and safety of the local community or the environment,” the Minneapolis utility said in a statement.

Although Xcel reported the tritium water leak to state and federal authorities in late November, the leak was not reported until Thursday. State officials said they were waiting for more information before making it public.

“We knew that tritium had been found in one monitoring well, but Xcel has not yet determined the source of the leak and its location,” said Minnesota Pollution Control Agency spokesman Michael Rafferty.

“Now that we have all the information about where the leak occurred, how much was released into the groundwater, and that the contaminated groundwater has gone beyond the original location, we are sharing that information,” he said, adding that the remaining water is at Xcel territories. and does not pose an immediate risk to public health.

The company said it notified the Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the state on Nov. 22, a day after it confirmed the leak from a pipe between the two buildings. Since then, it has been pumping groundwater, storing and processing contaminated water below the federal threshold for tritium.

“Continuous monitoring from more than two dozen on-site monitoring wells confirms that the water leak is fully localized and was not detected outside the facility or in any local drinking water,” Xcel Energy said in a statement.

When asked why Xcel Energy did not notify the public sooner, the company replied: “We understand the importance of quickly informing the communities we serve if the situation poses an immediate threat to health and safety. In this case, there was no such threat. The company said it was focusing on investigating the situation, locating the affected water and determining next steps.

The Monticello plant is located about 35 miles (55 km) northwest of Minneapolis, upstream from the city on the Mississippi River.

Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that occurs naturally in the environment and is a common by-product of nuclear power plants. According to the NRC, it emits a weak form of beta radiation that does not travel very far and cannot penetrate human skin. The person who drank the water from the spill received only a small dose, NRC said.

The NRC reports that tritium spills do occur from time to time at nuclear power plants, but it has repeatedly determined that they either remain confined to the plant site or have off-site levels so low that they do not affect public health or safety. Xcel reported a small tritium leak at Monticello in 2009.

Xcel said it has so far recovered about 25% of the spilled tritium, that recovery efforts will continue and the company will install a permanent solution this spring.

“While this leak does not pose a risk to the public or the environment, we are taking it very seriously and are working to safely resolve the situation,” said Chris Clark, president of Xcel Energy – Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. statement. “We continue to collect and process all potentially affected water by regularly monitoring nearby groundwater sources.”

Xcel Energy is considering building above-ground storage tanks for the contaminated water it recovers and is considering options to treat, reuse or ultimately dispose of the collected tritium and water. According to the MPCA, state regulators will consider the options the company chooses.

Japan is preparing to release a huge amount of treated radioactive wastewater into the sea after the meltdown of the triple reactor 12 years ago at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The water contains tritium and other radioactive contaminants.

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