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NRC: Prairie Island plant operating safely

The Prairie Island nuclear plant had some issues in 2012, but overall operated safely, Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials said.

NRC and Xcel Energy officials met publically Thursday evening at the Red Wing library to go over the 2012 assessment.

"Safety is really a key component of our station," plant manager Scott Sharp said.

The NRC evaluates issues at nuclear plants throughout the country on a color scale with green being the lowest, followed by white. Those posing more serious concerns can get a yellow or red rating.

Prairie Island's Unit 1 had one white inspection finding of low to moderate safety significance regarding emergency preparedness in 2012. It did not prioritize repairing a high range vent gas radiation detector, the NRC said.

The radiation monitors have since been fixed and are back in service, Prairie Island Site Vice President Jim Lynch said.

Unit 2 had a white performance indicator for emergency power system performance.

There also was what the NRC calls a cross-cutting issue where the plant did not use "conservative assumptions during decision making."

Lynch said the plant has taken actions to solve the issues and improve decision-making processes at the Prairie Island plant.

"We believe we've significantly improved the safety on our site," Lynch said, adding safety is a priority at Prairie Island.

Those issues trigger extra NRC inspections on top of the hundreds of hours of standard checks.

The next major process at the plant will be replacing Unit 2's steam generators.

"That is a very significant milestone for us," Sharp said.

The machines made the trip from France, where they were built, and are awaiting installation. They are slated to be swapped during Unit 2's outage, planned for late September.

"It's a big job, but it's not extraordinary," Lynch said, adding dozens of plants have replaced steam generators.

The current generators have been at the site for 40 years, Lynch said. "It's just time to replace them."

NRC officials said there will be extra inspectors on site throughout the installation process to make sure it is safe and to utilize lessons learned from other steam generator replacements.

Ken Riemer of the NRC said specialists have been preparing for those inspections for about a year.

The Unit 1 outage at the Prairie Island plant is scheduled for fall 2014.

Danielle Killey

Danielle Killey covers local government for the South Washington County Bulletin. She has worked as a reporter for other Forum Communications newspapers since 2011. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities with a journalism degree.

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