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Four decades of controlled power

The public will have a chance to tour the control room simulator today at the Prairie Island Training Center. Operators spend 4,000 hours of initial training there before they can be licensed for the real thing. (Republican Eagle photo by Michael Brun)

A lot has changed at Xcel Energy’s Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant since it went online in the mid-1970s.

Upgrades at the pressurized water reactor facility have included steam generator replacements, administrative building expansions and safety improvements in the aftermath of September 11 terror attacks and the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan.

“There has been and continues to be a great deal of activity at Prairie Island,” said site Vice President Kevin Davison at a 40th anniversary celebration Friday outside the 520-acre site a few miles north of Red Wing.

To mark four decades of operation, Xcel Energy is inviting the public to an open house 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today at the Prairie Island Training Center located across the street from the plant.

The free event includes a tour of the center’s full-scale control room simulator and exhibits explaining how the plant works. Lunch will be provided.

“It’s always good for people to be able to see our operations firsthand and get a feel for how we generate power at the Prairie Island plant,” said Pamela Gorman, community relations manager with Xcel Energy, at a lunch event Friday for community leaders.

A group of close to 50 area representatives, including officials from the state, Goodhue County, city of Red Wing and Prairie Island Indian Community, came out to get an overview of plant operations.

Dave Sparby, president of Northern States Power Company-Minnesota, an Xcel Energy subsidiary, took the opportunity to thank policy makers, the tribal community and the city of Red Wing for continuing to support the plant.

“Prairie Island has been delivering safe, reliable and clean service for 40 years, but we couldn’t have done that without all of you,” Sparby said.

Goodhue County Commissioner Ted Seifert, who was part of a group that toured the nuclear facility Friday, said he was impressed with the operation and glad Xcel Energy has invested so heavily in Prairie Island.

“It’s a good company,” Seifert said. “It adds tremendously to our community.”

Major construction on the plant began in 1968, with both reactor units online by 1974. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission renewed Xcel Energy’s license in 2011 to operate it until 2033/2034.

“The plant is every bit as valuable today as it’s ever been,” Sparby said, adding that Prairie Island generates around 20 percent of the electrical power used by Xcel Energy customers in the upper Midwest.

The twin reactors can output 1,100 megawatts, enough to power about a million homes, according to Xcel Energy.

Sparby said the 40-year story of Prairie Island has been characterized by “operational excellence and strong connections with the community.”

“And the best part of it is yet to come.”

Prairie Island offers safety app

Safety is an integral part of operations at Prairie Island nuclear plant. To help get surrounding communities prepared in case of an emergency, Xcel Energy has released READY PI for tablets and cellphones.

The program is an electronic version of the Xcel Energy Nuclear Emergency Planning guide, which also is sent by mail to more than 40,000 residents in the 10-mile emergency planning zone around the plant. The guide outlines shelter and evacuation plans as well as answers to common safety questions.

READY PI is available on iTunes and the Google Play stores.

A version of the plant in Monticello, Minnesota, also is available.

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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