Toxic water leaked from plant in 2022, and the public was just made aware.
Xcel Energy’s Monticello nuclear power plant recently leaked 400,000 gallons of radioactive water, potentially impacting a large area surrounding the plant. The company reported the incident to regulators on November 22nd, 2022, but it wasn’t made public until now. According to sources close to the matter, the leak is contained within Xcel’s property and poses no immediate public health, but what are the details of this shocking nuclear incident, and can the public really rest at ease?
“This is something that we struggle with because there is such concern with anything that is nuclear,” said Victoria Mitlyng, a spokesperson with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “The concern is very, very understandable. That is why I want to make extra clear the fact that the public in Minnesota, the people, the community near the plant, was not and is not in danger.”
The leak originated from a pipe between two buildings at the Monticello nuclear power plant in Minnesota. The company informed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the state’s Department of Health immediately after the incident and informed both agencies that the leak was confined to Xcel’s property, and thereby, collected before it could reach any local bodies of water or residential areas.
Despite this, officials have continued to monitor the situation. Of course, since the report came from inside the company, this monitoring will continue for the foreseeable future, ensuring the leak continues to be successfully contained and doesn’t leave the property of Xcel Energy.
The 400,000 gallons of radioactive water that spilled at the Monticello nuclear power plant contained tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen.
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency spokesperson Michael Rafferty confirmed, “We knew there was a presence of tritium in one monitoring well…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.”
Tritium is a by-product of nuclear plant operations. It emits a weak form of beta radiation that, fortunately, cannot travel large distances and is unable to penetrate human skin. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has determined that an individual who was exposed to the water, potentially by drinking it, would only receive a low dose of radiation as a result. However, Mitlyng said there “is no pathway for the tritium to get into drinking water.”
Xcel Energy has recovered about 25% of the spilled tritium and continues to clean up and monitor nearby groundwater sources for contamination.
“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.
The company is currently looking into building above-ground tanks to store the contaminated water and considering options for the treatment of the toxin.
In 2009, Xcel reported another small tritium leak at the same Monticello plant, although the current leak has been the largest in the plant’s history.