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Historical society exhibit will feature nuclear plant

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The Prairie Island nuclear plant has been in operation for nearly 40 years now, but how it works may still be a mystery to some.

A new temporary exhibit at the Goodhue County History Center will clear up any confusion as it provides information on everything from how nuclear energy is produced to what should be done with the waste. It will also allow visitors to see a timeline of the plant's history, all the way back to the initial operation of Unit 1 in December 1973.

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The exhibit, officially called "Prairie Island and the Nuclear Generating Plant," is one that the Goodhue County Historical Society decided to start organizing in spring 2011.

"We were looking at ideas for another temporary exhibit to put up," Collections Manager Johanna Grothe said. "We came up with the idea shortly after the Fukushima disaster in Japan."

In March last year, the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant on the eastern coast of Japan experienced equipment failure, nuclear meltdowns and releases of radioactive materials following an earthquake and tsunami.

The incident left Americans wondering what would keep such an event from occurring at nuclear plants in the United States, including the one in Prairie Island.

The historical society exhibit will offer information about the precautions Xcel Energy has taken since the Fukushima disaster, among other things.

"It's kind of broken down into five main topics," Grothe explained of the exhibit.

1. One section focuses on the history of the land itself, and takes a closer look at how it was used before the nuclear plant was constructed. It also features information about the archeology of the area and why that specific location was selected as the site for the plant.

2. Visitors to the exhibit will be able to learn exactly how nuclear energy is produced with the help of two scale models obtained from Xcel Energy.

"One is of the turbine floor and the other one is the containment structure where the reactor is," Grothe noted.

3. Since safety tends to be a concern for many citizens living near nuclear plants, the exhibit devotes an entire section to safety topics. It will address the types of alert levels used and the precautions to take in the event of an emergency, as well as explaining what radiation is and how people could be exposed to it.

4. Nuclear plants create nuclear waste -- another topic the exhibit examines.

"What do we do with the waste?" Grothe asked.

5. A general timeline will allow visitors to take a close look at the history of the local plant and some of the major events that have occurred there since its beginning.

A complete picture of the nuclear plant will be painted through the use of 3-D artifacts, a mannequin wearing anti-contamination clothing and a collection of photos from the historical society, Xcel Energy and the Prairie Island Indian Community.

"We're providing the information in a neutral way and just want the public to learn more about it and walk away with hopefully a greater understanding of the plant, its history and the history of the surrounding area," Grothe said.

The Goodhue County Historical Society will host a free open house for the exhibit from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday Dec. 1. It will be featured in the lobby of the history center for regular viewing until late 2013.

If you go

What: "Prairie Island and the Nuclear Generating Plant" exhibit open house

Where: Goodhue County History Center, 1166 Oak St.

When: 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday Dec. 1

Cost: Free

More info: 651-388-6024

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