Officials monitoring contaminated water leak at Monticello Nuclear Plant, leak contained

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) says it’s monitoring efforts to recover and treat contaminated water that leaked from the Monticello Nuclear Generating Plant that occurred last November.

According to Xcel Energy, the leak was detected by routine groundwater monitoring systems on Nov. 22, 2022, and was reported to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The contaminated water leaked out of a broken pipe.

“It’s a pipe that ran between two buildings that developed a leak,” said Doug Wetzstein, the Industrial Division Director with the Minneapolis Pollution Control Agency. “It took them until mid-December to find where that leak was coming from. Once they found it, they repaired it, and then in January of this year, the monitoring wells detected movement of the groundwater plume in the direction of the Mississippi River.”

Xcel says the leak does not pose safety or health risks to the public.

“Ongoing monitoring from over two dozen on-site monitoring wells confirms that the leaked water is fully contained on-site and has not been detected beyond the facility or in any local drinking water,” Xcel Energy stated in a press release.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS asked MCPA why it took so long to alert the public about the leak.

“We’re at a point where we have enough information to be able to go public and say we know what’s going on,” Wetzstein responded. “We know that it’s not a danger. It’s localized, it’s being contained, and stored on site or reused.”

The MPCA says the water leak involves tritium, which is “is a naturally occurring radioactive form of hydrogen that is produced in the atmosphere.” Tritium can increase the risk of cancer if consumed in large quantities — according to the Minnesota Department of Health, drinking a glass of contaminated water would have the exposure equivalent of getting an x-ray.

Xcel Energy reported to the MPCA that over 400,000 gallons of water containing tritium leaked from a water pipe that runs between two buildings at the nuclear facility. MDH added that the flow of the contaminated water was contained to the Xcel site.

According to MPCA, the leak has been stopped and did not reach the Mississippi River.

“There is no evidence at this time to indicate a risk to any drinking water wells in the vicinity of the plant,” the MPCA noted in a press release.

Still, residents expressed frustrations at not being alerted earlier.

“It happened in November? It would have been nice to know since we live next to the power plant,” declared Daniel Fure, a Monticello resident. “The public should know what’s going on. If we don’t’ know anything about it, we can’t say anything. We don’t know anything about it.”

“If there was at any point any risk to public safety or health, we would have notified people immediately,” Dan Huff, assistant commissioner with MDH, said. “Whenever we hear about radiation, that sounds scary, and we’re doing everything we can to make sure that it’s not going to impact public health, and right now, we know there is no exposure to Minnesotans.”

Xcel Energy says they are diverting water to an in-plant water treatment system to contain the leak and prevent water from leaving the plant. The site is also considering using holding tanks or a retention pond to store the contaminated water.

A permanent solution will be installed in the spring, the press release says.

Some of the water may be reused — though not for drinking water.

According to Xcel Energy, around 25% of the tritium released has been recovered, and the cleanup process will continue throughout the year.

MDH also shared that it is doing water monitoring in the river and in wells to make sure no radiation spreads from the plant.