Xcel plans safety upgrades at PI plantAlmost exactly one year ago, a major earthquake and subsequent tsunamis caused major damage to one of Japan’s nuclear plants.
By: Danielle Killey, The Republican Eagle
Almost exactly one year ago, a major earthquake and subsequent tsunamis caused major damage to one of Japan’s nuclear plants.
The issues discovered at the plant in the following days and weeks have prompted U.S. plants and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to find ways to make their plants safer and better prepared for emergencies.
Xcel Energy is working on upgrades to its Prairie Island and Monticello plants in light of NRC task force recommendations and its own analysis, said Terry Pickens, Xcel Energy’s director of nuclear regulatory policy.
The task force’s high priority issues included station blackout policies, spent fuel pool levels and earthquake and flood plans.
The Fukushima Daiichi plant lost offsite power in the earthquake and its emergency generators were damaged in the tsunami, Pickens said. So the NRC wanted to make sure U.S. plants could respond in the event of a blackout.
“Basically you need water and you need power,” Pickens said.
Xcel plans to have extra portable water pumps spread around the site to draw river water into the spent fuel pool. Three pumps have been purchased and delivered to Prairie Island in Red Wing, joining one that was acquired after Sept. 11, 2001.
Xcel also is looking at getting portable diesel generators to charge batteries so it can operate “critical instruments and valves,” he said.
The plant also will work on evaluating earthquake, flooding and other natural disaster plans.
Prairie Island’s plant is designed to handle about three times the expected seismic activity in Minnesota, Pickens said.
Being near the river, it also has a number of plans for floods.
“Flooding probably is the most common of the natural phenomenon we see on a regular basis,” he said. “Luckily our floods are slower developing and predictable.”
The plant also is built and equipped to handle tornadoes, both for high winds and objects thrown into structures by the storms.
Orders for the changes should come soon, Pickens said. But Xcel already has started work on some of them.
“When we looked at our operations we said ‘regardless of what the NRC decides we think this is a good idea,’” he said. “We have done some proactive things to get out in front of this, because we thought it was the right thing to do.”
For both Minnesota plants, the cost could be between $25 million and $50 million, Pickens said.
Other issues are being studied that could mean more changes in the future, he added.
“It depends on where the long-term evaluation goes,” he said.
Training has been a big part of the response as well. Refresher courses were held shortly after the Japan earthquake, and employees have been and will be trained with new equipment and procedures.
The NRC likely will give Xcel a completion deadline of two refueling cycles or the end of 2016, whichever is sooner. But since they’ve already started work, it likely would be completed before then, Pickens said.