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Missing tools at Prairie Island are located

Prairie Island nuclear plant officials have located two radioactive tools missing since December, but in the process discovered that another related device is unaccounted for, Xcel Energy officials said Friday.

The plant's annual inventory identified six missing low-level radioactive tools and devices. Xcel Energy notified the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Tuesday because two items had high enough radioactivity to require automatic notification.

One was recovered; the other apparently was installed in a reactor's containment area, according to plant paperwork.

Site Vice President Mark Schimmel said that leaves a question: What happened to the device it replaced?

None of the missing items poses a safety threat, both Xcel Energy and NRC officials said. The amount of radioactive material in each source - including the reportable devices - is less than that of a standard residential smoke detector.

"It's still something we're accountable for," Schimmel told the R-E Friday.

Staff found some of the other missing devices that didn't require NRC notification.

"We are still working around the clock on trying to locate several sources," he added.

The next step, he said, will involve looking inside storage containers that hold low-level radioactive tools and waste destined for disposal. The plant contracts with an out-of-state vendor.

"We're going to ship them next week and do the inventory there so we don't have handle them twice," he said.

Schimmel, who became site vice president after Mike Wadley's departure in August, said staff conducted a huge cleanup effort late last year to remove old tools and devices lying around the plant.

The inventory revealed that this is an accounting issue more than anything else, he said.

Plant workers will take corrective measures to determine what happened and prevent it from recurring -- and that will include a strict check-in, check-out process for tools and devices.

In December, the NRC flagged the local nuclear plant for growing risk of human error and potential dangers. Schimmel acknowledged there may be an element of human error involving the tool inventory, but the NRC discussion last month was directed at people making mistakes that damaged or disrupted equipment.

He also noted that the inventory concluded Dec. 18, and staff notified the NRC Jan. 19.

"Slow to report. That doesn't meet our expectations," he said.

Anne Jacobson

Anne Jacobson has been editor of the Republican Eagle since December 2003. 

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