The Big Story Blog

Leak prompts Prairie Island alert for first time in nuclear plant's history

Posted at 12:32 PM on January 5, 2012 by MPR News Staff
Filed under: Education, Environment

By Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio News

Xcel Energy officials said a leak in a water treatment system prompted them to put the Prairie Island nuclear generating plant on alert early Thursday for the first time in the plant's history.

The alert began at 3:53 a.m. after a worker reported a break in a two-inch PVC pip leading to a tank containing about 500 gallons of sodium hypochloride, a bleach used to cool intake water, according to Dennis Koehl, Xcel's senior vice president and chief nuclear officer.

Koehl said the spill was contained within the plant and the company will investigate what caused the pipe break. He said the spill won't affect the plant's water intake capacity or operations.

State officials say they're not asking anyone in the area to evacuate. Xcel Energy says no radioactive material was released and there is no danger to the public.

"We want to make sure people understand that although this is an alert condition at the plant, that it is a non radiological condition and we do not expect it to escalate into needing any kind of protective action recommendations," said Kris Eide, the state's director of homeland security and emergency management.

Parents with students in the Prescott, Wis., schools got notice this morning that classes were canceled because of a "release" at the Prairie Island nuclear plant. An automated call told parents that the district had closed for the day because of concerns.

Prescott parents were later notified that schools were open, but on a two-hour delay.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently announced it is renewing Xcel Energy's permit to operate the Prairie Island plant for another 20 years.

There are a few minor conditions written into the permit, mainly directing Xcel to replace and refurbish equipment. Xcel plans to invest at least $500 million updating the plant.

Xcel will apply for approval to increase generating capacity, which would prompt additional investments.

The NRC rejected arguments by the neighboring Prairie Island Indian Community that there were too many long-standing deficiencies at the plant.

Update: Xcel Energy officials sent out the following press release about the incident today at about 10:30 a.m.

A crew is working to clean up a chemical spill at Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant, near Red Wing, that prompted operators to declare an alert at 3:53 this morning.

The alert was declared after a plant worker reported a break in a 2-inch pipe going to a tank containing approximately 500 gallons of sodium hypochlorite, which is a type of chlorine bleach. The contents of the tank drained into a bermed area around the tank. There was no release of the chemical to the river. Plant officials expect the spill will be cleaned up by early this evening.

The health and safety of the public was not threatened by this event. There was no release of radioactive material associated with this event, and no injuries occurred.

The cause of the spill is being investigated.

The incident has not affected plant operations; both units continue to operate at full power.

An alert is the second lowest of four emergency classifications established by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The purpose of an alert is to assure that emergency personnel are readily available to assist the station and to provide off-site authorities with current status information.

The Minnesota State Emergency Operations Center and Joint Information Center has been activated. The Joint Information Center is the official source of information for the news media about the incident.

To keep telephone lines open for emergency communications, Xcel Energy asks the public not to call the plant site or Xcel Energy. The state of Minnesota has activated its Emergency Operations Center and is monitoring the situation. The state hotline numbers are: 651-297-1304 (metro); 1-800-657-3504 (non-metro); 1-800-657-3822 (TTY).


About Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto writes the Big Story Blog for MPR News. He joined the newsroom in 2008 after more than 20 years reporting on education, politics and the economy for news wires and newspapers across the country.