Xcel Energy fined $14K for failing to obtain permit for storage tanks following tritium leak

State authorities say Xcel Energy will need to pay a fine of $14,000 after the company failed to get a permit required to store groundwater contaminated with tritium in aboveground storage tanks at the Monticello nuclear power plant.

According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), Xcel needed to install temporary tanks as part of its response to and cleanup of the November 2022 leak. However, agency officials told Xcel that any tanks exceeding 1 million gallons of total capacity would need an aboveground storage tank major facility permit.

Xcel reportedly filled more than 20 temporary tanks and began filling a new tank with the contaminated groundwater in early April before it obtained the permit. Combined, all of the tanks increased the total capacity of the temporary tanks to more than 1.4 million gallons, according to the MPCA.

The agency adds that it issued the permit to Xcel in May and required the use of temporary tanks to end by Nov. 1. While the company was issued the permit, state officials say Xcel wasn’t able to continue cleaning and responding to the leak while it awaited the permit.

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MPCA officials say Xcel has now moved the tritiated water to a more permanent, in-ground lined pond and has also emptied and dismantled the temporary tanks.

As previously reported by 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS, the MPCA first announced the November leak in March, saying that it was monitoring efforts to recover and also treat contaminated water that leaked from the Monticello Nuclear Generating Plant in November of 2022.

Xcel Energy said the leak was found 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. The company also said the leak didn’t pose any health or safety risks to the public.

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The MPCA said at the time of the initial announcement that the leak had been stopped and didn’t reach the Mississippi River.

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Xcel Energy officials said in March that roughly 25% of the released tritium has been recovered. The plant was also temporarily shut down to fix the leak.

By late May, company officials determined over half of the contaminated water had been recovered, and by late July, more than 75% was recovered.

The community wasn’t alerted to the leak until March; however, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was told about the leak in November, and the leak was found the next month.

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The NRC will consider this leak as it continues the environmental review process for the plant’s license renewal application. A decision on the license is expected in November 2024 after both environmental and safety reviews have been completed.

The federal agency is accepting public comment until April 10.

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