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Xcel Energy will make key investments in the Prairie Island nuclear plant during the refueling outage that starts shortly, Site Vice President Kevin Davison said Tuesday.
New electrical generators and a step-up transformer — equipment that moves the power produced onto the transmission system — are among the items that have reached their 40-year lifespan, he said during the utility’s annual community breakfast.
In addition, the plant continues to implement lessons learned from the Diiachi nuclear disaster in 2011 at Fukushima, Japan, and why a nearby nuclear plant also in the path of the earthquake and tsunami continued to operate safely, he said.
Prairie Island nuclear plant recently purchased a bulldozer, for example, in the event a major Mississippi River flood leaves debris on the roads; emergency responders couldn’t reach Diiachi, Davidson noted. The plant also is constructing a building to keep safety and emergency equipment high and dry, much higher than anyone believes necessary.
“One thing we learned is we need to be ready,” Davison said.
Clearly proud of Prairie Island’s safety record, he noted that the plant is in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s “column 1” compliance standings. (“That’s where you want to be.”) The NRC recently completed an intensive five-week inspection that he indicated went very well. Meanwhile, the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, the industry group that promotes excellence and also rates the plant highly, is here this week.
Patty Brown, executive director of the Red Wing Area Chamber of Commerce, praised Xcel for holding public tours before installing new steam generators in 2013. She asked the utility to consider opening the doors again.
Nothing is planned yet, but Davison said he intends to do so.
“We think the more you see, the more you know, that kind of takes away the intrinsic ‘What are these guys doing over there with that nuclear stuff?’” he said.
Chris Clark, president of Xcel’s NSP-Minnesota, gave a company and general industry update at the breakfast. He touched on carbon reduction, fuel cells, changing federal policies, customer demands and battery storage, among other issues.
Changing economics, he said, have wind power competing with natural gas on a regular basis. Through purchase agreements, credits and wind turbine installation, Xcel expects to meet the state rule that 10 percent of its energy come from wind by 2030.
Solar power, too, is growing.
“We’re on a pace to be the nation’s leader in community solar gardens,” Clark said.
“And then we have nuclear storage,” he added to rueful laughter.
As the audience knows well and hears every year, Prairie Island nuclear plant has to store its spent fuel onsite in large casks because the federal government hasn’t met its responsibility.
Xcel Energy continues to push for the federal radioactive waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. The retirement of U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., in 2016 could reopen discussions, Clark said. Xcel also is open to talks of interim storage sites.
“Any movement we can get on this issue is healthy,” he said.