Listen to this article Radioactive Water Leak Of 1.5 Million Liters Reported At Nuclear Power Plant In Minnesota
In late November, a massive radioactive water leak from a nuclear power plant just outside Minneapolis, Minnesota, caused concern among residents and officials.
Xcel Energy, the operator of the Monticello power plant, experienced a leak of approximately 1.5 million litres (400,000 gallons) of nuclear wastewater. However, Xcel Energy did not make the incident public until Thursday.
Company Response and Public Safety
Xcel Energy has stated that the spill poses no risk to public safety. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has also confirmed that the spill doesn’t pose a threat to local communities or the environment. The company immediately took action to contain the leak to the plant site, ensuring that it didn’t affect the surrounding area. The contaminated water contains tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that occurs naturally in the environment and is a common by-product of nuclear plant operations.
Leak Source and Information Release
The leak occurred from a pipe that ran between two buildings in the power plant complex, which is located 55 kilometres northwest of Minneapolis and about 600 kilometres south of Thunder Bay. State officials waited until more information could be gathered before making the spill public. “We knew there was a presence of tritium in one monitoring well, however, Xcel had not yet identified 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 groundwater, and that contaminated groundwater had moved beyond the original location, we are sharing this information.” The water remains contained on Xcel’s property and poses no immediate public health risk.
Cleanup and Recovery
Since the leak, Xcel has been pumping groundwater and storing and processing the contaminated water. The company has recovered about 25% of the spilled tritium so far, and the levels of tritium in the water are below federal thresholds. The company plans to install a permanent solution this spring. The Minnesota Department of Health confirmed that the contaminants did not reach the Mississippi River, which is located right in the power plant’s backyard.
Company Explanation and Future Plans
When asked why the company didn’t release news of the leak sooner, Chris Clark, president of Xcel Energy–Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota, said: “If at any point there had been concern for the public safety, we would, of course, immediately have provided more information.” He added, “But we also wanted to make sure we fully understood what was going on before we started raising any concerns with the public around us.” In a separate statement, the company said it understands “the importance of quickly informing the communities we serve if a situation poses an immediate threat to health and safety.
In this case, there was no such threat.” Xcel Energy is considering building above-ground storage tanks to store the contaminated water it recovers and is considering options for the treatment, reuse, or final disposal of the collected tritium and water. State regulators will review the options the company selects, according to the MPCA.
Potential Health Risks
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Xcel Energy confirm that the leak poses no immediate health risk at this time. However, the Minnesota Department of Health adds that the “main potential health risk from this event is the possibility of radiation exposure to the public.”
The agency also reiterates that a conservative assumption in radiation protection is that any radiation exposure could result in an increase in cancer occurrences in the population. Tritium emits a weak form of beta radiation that does not travel very far and cannot penetrate human skin, according to the NRC. A person who drank water from a spill would get only a low dose, the NRC says.
Tritium spills happen from time to time at nuclear plants, the NRC says. When they occurred in the past, the spills typically either remained inside the plant property or involved such low offsite levels that they didn’t affect public health or safety. Xcel reported a small tritium leak at Monticello in 2009.
Xcel Energy is considering building above-ground storage tanks to store the contaminated water it recovers and is considering options for the treatment, reuse, or final disposal of the collected tritium and water. State regulators will review the options the company selects, the MPCA said.