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Nuclear reactor shuts down at Xcel Prairie Island plant after 'unusual event'

Xcel says a malfunctioning transformer set off a fire alarm on May 27, triggering an automatic shutdown of its unit 2 reactor.
Credit: AP
FILE - This Sept. 23, 2005 file photo shows the Prairie Island nuclear power plant near Red Wing, Minn. (AP Photo/Jim Mone,File)

RED WING, Minn. — Xcel Energy confirms that its Prairie Island Nuclear Plant is operating on just one of two reactors after an incident over the weekend triggered the other to automatically shut down.

Both Xcel and the city of Red Wing say operators of the plant at Prairie Island declared a "Notification of Unusual Event" just after 6:30 p.m. Saturday, May 27. The notification was made after a transformer malfunctioned, setting off a fire alarm at the unit 2 reactor "that could not be verified within 15 minutes." 

The alarm, in turn, triggered an automatic shutdown of the reactor. Xcel says operators were soon able to confirm there was no fire or additional issue involving unit 2. The company says the unit 1 reactor continued to operate normally throughout the incident, and customers' electric service was not interrupted. 

"A Notification of Unusual Event is the lowest of four emergency classifications established by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission," reads an Xcel news release on the incident. "The declaration indicates a potential reduction in the level of safety at the plant but no threat to public safety. The declaration’s purpose is to have the plant’s operating staff reach a state of readiness for emergency response if necessary."

Xcel says unit 2 remains powered down while repairs are made to the malfunctioning transformer that instigated the shutdown, and standard procedures required to restart a nuclear reactor are completed. It is expected to be back online later this week.

The incident at Prairie Island isn't the only one Xcel Energy has had to deal with in recent months. In late March Xcel was forced to temporarily power down its Monticello plant following the discovery of a faulty pipe that was leaking water contamination with tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen.  


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