MONTICELLO, Minn. — The chemical leak at an Xcel Energy nuclear facility happened in November, but officials formally announced it to the public on Thursday.
When the leak happened, Xcel Energy reported it to the state and to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, but since the public was never in danger, and the leak was contained to the site, Xcel Energy and state officials never felt the need to inform the public until now.
"People in the community should know this is safe, that there is no public health concern,” Xcel Energy President Chris Clark says.
Xcel Energy says the leak at the Monticello Nuclear Power Plant involves Tritium, a byproduct left over after the creation of nuclear energy.
The Tritium is mixed into water in the process and is typically stored at the site.
Xcel Energy says a leak was discovered in one of their pipes last November and about 400,000 gallons of that tritiated water leaked out.
"We've recovered about 25% of that water that went into the ground,” Clark says.
The company is now pumping that water out of the ground and safely storing it at the site.
Clark says that cleanup process could take nearly a year to complete.
He say that's one of the reasons why Xcel Energy and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) made the formal announcement about the leak on Thursday, because community members will likely see more staff and equipment at the site in the coming months and the company wanted to explain why.
“It really felt like we had the full story of information now and we can assure people there is no public harm. There is no environmental or safety risk,” Clark says.
"We wanted to make sure we had sufficient information to really let the public know what's going on there,” Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Assistant Commission Kirk Koudelka says.
The MPCA and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) are monitoring the cleanup at the site.
Officials say the contaminated water has been contained to the site, none of it has been found in outside groundwater or drinking water at this time.
"The most important thing for folks to know is we will notify them immediately if there were any risk,” MDH Assistant Commissioner Dan Huff says.
According to the United State Nuclear Regulatory Commission, there was a similar tritium leak at the Monticello site back in 2009.
The commission says 57 nuclear power plants are operating in the United States and tritium leaks have happened in at least 40 of them over the years.
In all of those cases, the commission says contaminated water never made it into outside groundwater or drinking water.
Monticello Mayor Lloyd Hilgart said the city learned about the extent of leak in late February, in a statement released on Friday:
"Though the Xcel plant is within our community, the City of Monticello does not have the authority to govern the nuclear plant. As we’ve noted, the federal and state regulating agencies determine the appropriate governmental responses to incidents at the Xcel nuclear plant, including any emergency response, remedial actions and public or media releases."
Click here to see the full release.
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