Monticello plans to test city water as precaution after leak at nuclear generating plant

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Xcel Energy will power down the Monticello Nuclear Generating Plant on Friday to fix a new leak of radioactive water from one of the facility’s pipes.

RELATED: Monticello nuclear plant to be temporarily shut down to fix leak

It’s the first time the company has taken the plant off-line since a leak of radioactive water was first detected. In mid-November, an on-site monitoring well underneath the plant detected tritium, which is a radioactive form of hydrogen and a byproduct of the reactor.

The company reported the initial leak of 400,000 gallons of water to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission immediately.  According to Xcel, the source of the leak was located in mid-December. It was a pipe between two buildings, which was accessed by drilling through a concrete wall.

A temporary solution was implemented to capture water from the leaking pipe and reroute it back to the plant for re-use. After monitoring equipment on the plant indicated new water had reached the groundwater, the company determined the short-term solution was no longer capturing 100% of the leaking water.

Monticello Mayor Lloyd Hilgart told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS he’s glad Xcel was closely monitoring the situation and decided to shut down the plant to make permanent repairs immediately.

“The safety of our residents is our number one priority,” he said.

According to Hilgart, the city learned about the initial leak on Feb. 24 when Xcel informed the city administrator. 

In an interview on Thursday, Hilgart said his first reaction was “Just wanting to know more about it, just wondering what was happening. No one likes to hear the words ‘nuclear’ or ‘radioactive’ so we just wanted to make sure everyone was going to be safe.”

Xcel’s notification came three months after the leak was first detected.

“I feel like there’s a reason why there’s a federal regulatory body first and then a state body second, both of those entities were made aware of this,” said Hilgart, on whether the city should’ve been notified sooner. “I think there was a challenge too in the fact that they knew there was a leak but they didn’t know where the leak was so they had to find the leak.”

“I do believe at a certain point we should’ve been notified probably earlier than we were,” he added. “I think it’s a learning experience for everyone because they weren’t required to tell us.”

While the city found out in February, the public didn’t learn about the leak until last Thursday. Hilgart said the city urged Xcel to make an announcement sooner.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS asked Hilgart why the city didn’t put out an announcement when it learned of the leak.

“I think we were still trying to learn about the situation,” he said. “We didn’t really know what it meant, that’s why we were really pushing for Xcel to put something out because it was out of our scope.”

On Monday, he toured the plant and saw the well that detected the tritiated water and the control room.

“You went into the control room and there’s people that monitor and that’s what they do,” he said. “They monitor all day. There’s people everywhere and there’s multiple layers of control and even learning that the people in the control room, they overlap with the other people.”

According to Xcel, there are about 24 wells around the site in three rings. There’s a ring underneath the plant, then another 100 feet out, and then a third ring beyond that. The company said it determined contaminated water didn’t leave the property because it didn’t reach the third ring of wells.

As a precaution, however, Monticello will be testing its municipal water supply.

The City of Minneapolis recently announced that it is partnering with the Department of Health to assess the situation and will test water to make sure it isn’t contaminated. There is not any evidence that the leak has made its way to the Mississippi — the main water supply for the city.

Hilgart is also speaking with Xcel about how to improve communication. 

“It’s an interesting situation to be in because Xcel is their their own entity,” he said. “They’re in the City of Monticello but they’re under the regulation of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and that’s who initially found out about the leak and that’s who it was reported to. […] They then determined it was nothing that needed to be reported.”

“I’ve had multiple conversations with Chris Clark, the president of Xcel, and the city administrator and we’re going to be collaborating going forward on how situations like this are going to be handled and how much information should be shared and when, what that threshold will be,” he added.