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Nuclear plant striving to improve

The Prairie Island nuclear plant is operating safely, but has areas where it needs to improve, Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials said this week. 

NRC and Prairie Island representatives met in a public meeting Wednesday at the St. James Hotel. The groups discussed the plant’s performance, its corrective action program and plans to address issues on site.

“Over the years, Prairie Island has done relatively well with identifying their problems,” senior resident inspector Karla Stoedter said, but the local plant has struggled with fixing them in a timely manner.

Tim O’Connor, senior vice president and chief nuclear officer for Xcel Energy, said the plant has been working to correct issues and change the culture of behavior.

The plant has been focusing on prioritizing, fixing problems that would impact safety first and coming up with a long-term plan to address issues and permanently remedy them. It’s been a key focus for the past two years at Prairie Island, he said.

“We’ve got successes with that, and we’ve got some gaps yet that we have to go after,” O’Connor said.

A “1” and “2”

The Prairie Island plant operated safely in 2014 overall, the NRC reported.

Unit 1 remained in column 1 of the NRC’s “action matrix,” meaning that any issues found were of low safety significance. Unit 2 had no safety-significant findings, but was rated in column 2 for all of last year due to a “white” finding — a low to moderate safety issue — in the area of “mitigating systems.” Those consist of important equipment and systems that must be available and reliable when they’re needed, the NRC 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.

Both units at Prairie Island are now in column 1, and plant officials said they plan to keep them there by continuing to improve actions and behaviors.

“Prairie Island carries a lot of baggage, and the only way to shed that baggage is you have to perform at exceptional levels for an extended period of time,” said Kevin Davison, site vice president.

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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