State records highlight lack of coordination in nuclear leak response

Tritium leak response

Tritium leak response

Internal communication within state agencies highlights what appears to be a lack of coordination in responding to a radioactive leak at a nuclear power plant.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS obtained hundreds of records in a public data request surrounding communication about Xcel Energy’s Monticello nuclear power plant leak from late last year.

According to Xcel, it detected the leak on Nov. 22, 2022. The 400,000-gallon spill was contaminated with tritium, which, according to the power company, is a compound that emits low levels of radiation.

From the start, Xcel says the leak posed no health or safety risk.

While the leak was detected in November, it wasn’t until mid-March this year that the public was informed. Now, after analyzing state data, we’re getting a better idea of how the months of communication, before informing the public, within state agencies went.

In an email between two Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) officials on Feb. 22 — three months after the leak was detected — one official wrote in part, “there’s a lot to say about this situation. It’s not helped by the fact that no state or federal agency has really stepped up to the plate and taken complete charge of the situation.”

That email goes on to say that in a meeting with Xcel, the MPCA official “told them we were concerned about Tritium getting into the Miss. River and that everything should be done to prevent that from happening,” eventually adding, “Xcel has not informed local Emergency Response authorities or legislators (something I told them to do).”

Then on March 2 — two weeks before Xcel publicly announced the leak — the same MPCA official informed colleagues that they would be the lead agency but that they’re still working out how other state agencies will respond – writing, “A “kickoff” meeting for involved staff is being scheduled. To be clear, there’s no new information prompting this action but rather a growing need for better coordination.”

In a new statement surrounding the response to the leak, the MPCA sent the following.

The MPCA worked with city and county officials as well as Xcel Energy as soon as possible once we knew the magnitude of the leak and worked collaboratively to address tritiated water at the facility. State agencies continue to monitor groundwater and drinking water at and near the facility.  

Standing by its response, Xcel Energy also sent the following statement.

We immediately informed state and federal agencies on Nov. 22, 2022, the same day that routine groundwater monitoring confirmed the leak, then focused on investigating the situation and containing the affected water. We followed the proper notification procedures without delay. Every step of the way, we have worked with our regulators to manage the issue and ensure the safety of the local community and surrounding environment. The Monticello nuclear plant has provided safe, reliable, carbon-free electricity to over 500,000 customers for more than 50 years, and nuclear energy is critical to our shared goal in Minnesota of 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040.