Nuclear plant improves in 2011Prairie Island nuclear plant had one safety issue in 2011, but generally operated “in a manner that preserved public health and safety,” Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials said this week.
By: Danielle Killey, The Republican Eagle
Prairie Island nuclear plant had one safety issue in 2011, but generally operated “in a manner that preserved public health and safety,” Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials said this week.
In a public meeting at the Red Wing High School on Tuesday night, NRC and Xcel Energy officials discussed the plant’s operations in 2011. The NRC had identified one finding of moderate safety significance and 20 of low safety significance at Prairie Island last year.
“We agree with the assessment,” Prairie Island site vice president Jim Molden said. “Performance improvement is a journey in our industry.”
“We’re looking forward to the continued safe performance of our station,” he added.
The “white” finding in 2011 was an issue with safety-related battery chargers. The charger would “lock up” and stop charging during tests that simulate losing off-site power, the NRC found.
The NRC labels issues at plants on a color scale: “Green” is the lowest, followed by “white,” “yellow” and finally “red.”
That finding triggered some extra inspections at the Prairie Island plant. But by early 2012 it was back to baseline levels with the NRC.
Karla Stoedter, a resident inspector at Prairie Island, said there were more than 3,400 hours of inspections at the plant. Most were standard, and about 300 were to assess industry issues, such as problems discovered after the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.
A supplemental inspection for the plant’s white finding was completed in February 2012.
Dennis Koehl of Xcel emphasized the importance of the staff working together. He said while human error does result in some mistakes, assembling an effective team can help close some of those gaps.
“All the people at Xcel and the station are committed to making sure we take care of our neighbors,” he added.
But others still have worries about the plant.
“While we welcome the opportunity for public discussion, we continue to have significant concerns about the long-term operation of a 40-year-old plant that has already experienced” a variety of issues, Prairie Island Indian Community Tribal Council President Johnny Johnson said in a statement.
This week’s discussion did not include incidents at the plant this year because they fall outside the 2011 assessment.
Those included an alert triggered after more than 500 gallons of chlorine bleach leaked in January and an announcement that small amounts of tritium and trace amounts of other chemicals were released from the plant, including during a 27-gallon spill in early February.
Another issue yet to be resolved is nuclear waste storage. A federal government storage site is stalled, an issue frustrating both Xcel and Prairie Island Indian Community members.
“Without a deep geologic repository, 64 dry casks holding 1,600 tons of waste will be stranded on Prairie Island by 2034 — exposing all of us to the vulnerabilities of aging facilities, human error, natural disasters and even acts of terrorism,” Johnson said.
Prairie Island nuclear plant’s reactor licenses were extended in 2011 for 20 years.
More casks will also remain there after the plant’s decommissioning, he added.
“Right now that’s a political decision,” NRC branch chief Ken Riemer said of a national waste storage site.