Minnesota Nuclear Plant Closed Following Radioactive Water Leak

A nuclear power plant in Monticello, Minnesota, has been temporarily shut down for repairs following the discovery of radioactive material leakage into the local groundwater. At least 400,000 gallons of water contaminated with radioactive tritium have leaked from Xcel Energy’s plant, which sits along the Mississippi River. Although officials first publicized the leak last week, the plant was forced to shut down after monitoring equipment detected further leakage of radioactive water.

Tritium, a mildly radioactive form of hydrogen, occurs naturally in the environment and during nuclear power production. When tritium mixes with oxygen, it produces radioactive water. State and federal officials assert that it is hazardous only when ingested in large quantities. After detecting the leak in November, Xcel Energy installed a container to catch the contaminated water. However, the container was only a short-term solution. It spilled over this week, causing further leakage of hundreds of gallons of contaminated water.

Xcel Energy confirmed in a statement that ongoing monitoring from over two dozen on-site wells indicates that the leaked water remains contained on-site and has not been detected beyond the facility or in any local drinking water. In addition, the company has cleaned up about 32% of the leaked radioactive water. It maintains that the leak does not threaten the environment or residents. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Minnesota Department of Health have corroborated this assessment, stating that there is no evidence of a current or imminent risk to the public and will continue to monitor groundwater samples.

Xcel Energy’s president of operations in Minnesota and the Dakotas, Chris Clark, acknowledged that the exact cause of the leak is unclear. Still, the pipe responsible for the spill will be removed and sent to a laboratory for testing. He also addressed the recent discovery of the new leak, which is significantly smaller than the original spill at hundreds of gallons. Shutting down the plant should eliminate the risk of further tritium-contaminated water entering the ground.

In the coming days, the plant will be powered down slowly and allowed to cool, allowing Xcel to remove the broken pipe, analyze the cause of the failure, and perform additional inspections. Clark admitted that the line is likely part of the plant’s original infrastructure built 50 years ago, even though the company has spent millions of dollars upgrading the plant since then.

Over 30% of the released tritium has been recovered, and none has made it into drinking water or the nearby Mississippi River. However, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Minnesota Department of Health have stated they will continue to monitor groundwater samples and promptly inform the public if any imminent risk arises.

Xcel Energy is seeking an extension of the plant’s operating license, which expires in 2030. The plant was scheduled to shut down in April for a regular refueling that occurs every two years. After inspecting the facility, the company will determine whether to start the refueling outage early or bring the plant back online.