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Picking up steam: Nuclear plant's two new steam generators sail through Red Wing

Tim Alms/Republican Eagle The generators were made in France and traveled by ocean vessel to New Orleans, where they were loaded onto a river barge. They began their northbound journey in February. The new machines will replace nearly 40-year-old generators in Prairie Island nuclear plant Unit 2. -- R-E photos by Tim Alms1 / 3
Xcel Energy representatives watch as two new steam generators travel past Bay Point Park and round the bend toward the Prairie Island nuclear plant Friday morning. -- R-E photos by Tim Alms2 / 3
Steam generators will be installed at Prairie Island nuclear plant in September during a refueling outage. -- photo by Tim Alms, Republican Eagle3 / 3

More than 660 tons of machinery floated through Red Wing Friday morning.

A barge carrying two new steam generators -- both destined for Prairie Island nuclear plant's Unit 2 -- passed under the Eisenhower Bridge and in front of Levee and Bay Point parks at about 7:30.

The generators are an integral part of the nuclear plant's pressurized water reactor, Xcel Energy Director of Nuclear Regulatory Policy Terry Pickens said.

The new generators will replace the pair that has been in operation in Unit 2 for 39 years.

"Many (generators) experience problems over the years," Pickens said. "It's significant that these achieved almost 40 years of life."

The generators in Unit 1 were replaced in 2004.

Those generators -- and the pair that arrived in Red Wing on Thursday -- were made by Areva, a nuclear power company in Chalon St. Marcel, France. Pickens said that only France- and Japan-based companies have the capabilities to produce the large equipment.

The new generators -- each weighing more than 330 tons and standing about 70 feet tall -- are a more advanced version of the steam generators currently in Unit 2, Pickens said. The new machines are made using a product called alloy 690. The current generators are made from an alloy 600.

"That's an improved material we're using," Pickens said.

The new generators will be more efficient, he added.

Once production on the machines was finished in France, they were shipped to New Orleans on an ocean vessel. There, they were transferred to a river barge and began their nearly 2,000 mile journey at the beginning of February.

Two managers from Areva were following the barge's progress up the river "to ensure a safe and timely delivery at Prairie Island," Xcel Energy's Brian Elwood said.

Xcel Energy originally alerted Red Wing residents of the barge's arrival Wednesday, stating that anyone who wished to see the generators could do so from Colvill, Levee and Bay Point parks.

But by late Thursday afternoon, the barge carrying the machines had gotten stuck in the ice just south of Lake City. They didn't reach their final destination until Friday afternoon, Xcel spokesman Tom Hoen said.

Once the generators are unloaded, they'll be stored in a building on-site at Prairie Island. They won't be installed until the nuclear plant's refueling outage later this fall.

Until then, the generators will undergo extensive inspections, Pickens said. "(We're) just making sure they're all set to go," Pickens said.

Prairie Island nuclear plant is licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to operate until 2033-34. Should the plant decide to relicense for another 20 years after that, Pickens said he expects the new generators to last the duration.

"I think these generators would support 40 years of operation like the old ones did," he said.

Sarah Gorvin
Sarah Gorvin has been with the Republican Eagle for two years and covers education, business and crime and courts. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 2010 with a  journalism degree.