Minnesota power plant leaked 400,000 gallons of radioactive water

The leak from the nuclear power plant was reported to regulators only recently, and the authorities had remained silent.
Mrigakshi Dixit
Monticello Nuclear Generating Plant.
Monticello Nuclear Generating Plant.

Wikimedia Commons 

In November 2022, a nuclear power plant in Minnesota leaked 400,000 gallons of radioactive water. Reportedly, it is enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool to about 60 percent capacity.

However, the leak was only reported to regulators, and the authorities remained silent to the public.

After four months, the energy giant Xcel Energy issued a statement regarding the nuclear power plant leak. According to officials, the leak poses no immediate threat, and Minnesota officials are closely monitoring the cleanup process.

"We have taken comprehensive measures to address this situation on-site at the plant. While this leak does not pose a risk to the public or the environment, we take this very seriously and are working to safely address the situation," said Chris Clark, president of Xcel Energy–Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

How did the leak happen? 

The nuclear power plant is located northwest of Minneapolis, a city of approximately 15,000 people. On November 22, 2022, after the leak was confirmed, company officials notified the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the state.

The leak was discovered by routine groundwater monitoring systems and was caused by a faulty water pipe that ran between two buildings on the property. Since then, the company has been "pumping, storing, treating, and reusing the leaked water" on the site to ensure safety. Moreover, the leaked water is being diverted to a water treatment system on-site. 

The statement says that over a dozen on-site monitoring wells have ensured that the contaminated water is completely contained on-site and has not leaked outside the facility or into any nearby drinking water sources.

So far, the company has recovered approximately 25 percent of the tritium released. The cleanup is expected to last several months, with a permanent solution installed by spring 2023.

Low levels of tritium

The tritium levels in the leaked water are found to be below the NRC safety thresholds. Therefore, the compound can't travel far into the atmosphere or even penetrate human or animal skin.

The radiation levels in the leaking water are said to be low. That is, even if the water reaches drinking water sources, it will be safe to drink and use for other purposes.

Tritium is a safe compound, and everyone is exposed to some of it because it is naturally present in the environment. It also emits low levels of radiation, similar to the common items we use, such as food.

The company is planning to set up large on-site storage tanks to hold recovered water until it can be treated and reused. "We continue to gather and treat all potentially affected water while regularly monitoring nearby groundwater sources. We will continue to partner with local groundwater specialists, and we remain in close cooperation with the MPCA, along with other state and federal regulators and our local community throughout the remediation effort," Clark said.

Meanwhile, the state authorities are continuing to monitor the ongoing remediation efforts to ensure the safety of the local community and the environment at large.

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