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Prairie Island nuclear plant at full power

A steam generator sits in a storage shed in the summer of 2013. Xcel Energy recently brought Prairie Island nuclear plant's Unit 2 back to full power after replacing two 40-year-old generators. (Republican Eagle file photo)

Prairie Island nuclear plant returned to full power at 2 a.m. today, producing electricity with two new steam generators installed during a refueling and maintenance outage, owner Xcel Energy announced.

The outage began Sept. 21 and involved replacing Unit 2's 40-year-old steam generators as well as one-third of the fuel rods. Xcel brought in approximately 1,500 contractors to assist with the work.

“The steam generator replacement project is one of the significant investments Xcel Energy is making in its nuclear plants to ensure continued safe, reliable, carbon-free electricity generation for our customers for the next 20 years,” Dave Sparby said in a press release. He is president and CEO of Northern States Power Co.-Minnesota, an Xcel Energy company.

Unit 1 remained online throughout the outage. Xcel crews brought Unit 2back online gradually; it was at roughly 30 percent power last week, a spokesman said at the time.

Each of the two 550-megawatt reactors at Prairie Island and its sister plant in Monticello, Minn., is refueled about once every 18 months. When both units are operating, the plant generates enough electricity to power nearly 1 million homes.

“Xcel Energy’s Prairie Island and Monticello nuclear generating plants are among the company’s lowest-cost sources of generation on a per megawatt-hour basis. They run 24 hours a day, seven days per week, except during refueling outages," Sparby said.

 During refueling outages, Xcel Energy purchases electricity from the Midcontinent Independent System Operator or other utilities or increases electricity production at its other generating plants to ensure an adequate power supply for its customers.