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Xcel is moving 'full-steam ahead'

Prairie Island nuclear plant's two new steam generators were on display during a community luncheon at the plant Tuesday. The generators will be installed during a refueling outage this fall. (Republican Eagle photo by Sarah Gorvin)1 / 3
A schematic drawing of the generators is taped to the side of one of Prairie Island nuclear plant's new steam generators.2 / 3
The two pieces of each steam generator will be welded together to create a single unit as they're installed in Unit 2. (Graphic courtesy of Xcel Energy)3 / 3

It's been more than 13 years since Prairie Island nuclear plant has opened its doors to community members. But on Thursday, Xcel Energy invited about 100 regional community leaders to lunch on the plant's grounds.

The reason behind the rare event was the plant's two new steam generators. The 330-ton machines were on display during the luncheon. This fall, they will replace those currently in use in Unit 2, which have been in place since the plant was built 40 years ago.

"We've taken such good care of our generators, they lasted the entire licensed life of the plant," site Vice President Jim Lynch said. He added that Prairie Island is the only plant out of more than 100 in the United States to achieve that.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission renewed the plant's licenses in 2011, extending operations through 2034. The new generators are expected to last another 40 years, well beyond the plant's license.

Xcel Energy Regional Vice President Laura McCarten called the event a "milestone" in the company's history. At $280 million, the generator project is just part of the plant's $1.2 billion in updates over several years.

"The generators are tangible evidence of our commitment to the plant and the area," she said. "We are truly investing in this community for years to come. It is full-steam ahead."

Other updates include work to the turbines, heaters and other large components inside the plant, Xcel Energy Director of Nuclear Regulatory Policy Terry Pickens said.

Half of the energy that Xcel Energy provided in 2012 was carbon-free, McCarten said, and the plant played "a critical part" in helping the company achieve those numbers.

McCarten also thanked the community for its continued support of the Prairie Island plant.

"We could not do what we do without the work and collaboration of the community," she said.

Minnesota Rep. Tim Kelly and Sen. Matt Schmit, as well as acting Red Wing Mayor Lisa Bayley and Prairie Island Indian Tribal Council Secretary Ron Johnson, also spoke at the event.

The new generators will be installed during the plant's refueling outage, scheduled to begin sometime in September. Generally, those outages -- which take place every 18 months -- last about one month. But due to the added work of installing the new generators, the upcoming outage will last about twice that, Pickens said.

The generators were manufactured by AREVA, a nuclear power company in Chalon St. Marcel, France. Construction of the machines ended in December, and the generators were shipped to New Orleans by ocean vessel. They were then loaded onto a river barge and traveled up the Mississippi to the plant. They arrived in April.

The steam generators in Unit 1 were replaced in 2004.

Sarah Gorvin
Sarah Gorvin has been with the Republican Eagle for two years and covers education, business and crime and courts. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 2010 with a  journalism degree.