Two separate tritium and toxic chemical leaks admitted by Xcel Energy in past five days
February 7, 2012
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NRC file photo of Prairie Island nuclear power plantXcel Energy's Prairie Island nuclear power plant has made what appears to be two admissions of separate toxic chemical and radiological spills in less than a week.

Last Thursday, an "event notification report" posted at the website of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) reported a tritium spill which occurred sometime between November 22nd and 29th, 2011, of up to 3,900 gallons, with a concentration of 9,430 picoCuries per Liter (pCi/L). This tritium concentration is nearly half the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Safe Drinking Water Act limit of 20,000 pCi/L. Such a limit should not be regarded as "safe," but rather as "acceptably risky" according to the agency, which has done a cost (to the public's health)-benefit (to Xcel Energy's bottom line) analysis to arrive at its limit. The linear no threshold theory, affirmed by the U.S. National Academies of Science for decades, holds that any exposure to radioactivity, no matter how small, still carries a health risk of cancer, and those risks accumulate over a lifetime. That event notification report did not explain why Xcel Energy had waited well over two months to publicly announce this incident.

Now, in a second, "Current Event Notification Report" from the Prairie Island nuclear power plant to NRC dated Feb. 7, 2012, Xcel Energy admits:

"OFFSITE NOTIFICATION DUE TO UNPERMITTED RELEASE 

'The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) was notified of a release of 27 gallons from the condensate system. The release contained the following chemicals: 

1) 11.2 ppm of methoxy propylamine (MPA); 
2) 8.1ppm of ammonia; 
3) 11.2 ppb of hydrazine; 
4) 1.50 E-5 microCi/mL (15,000 pCi/L) of tritium. 

"The condensate was released from parts Warehouse #1 heating steam system overflow vent. Condensate return pumps failed to operate causing 27 gallons of condensate to backup and overflow onto the ground. A catch basin has been installed and the steam inlet valve has been closed preventing the addition of steam into the system. 

The NRC Resident Inspector has been informed. 

The licensee also notified the Prairie Island Dakota Indian Community.' "

These appear to be two separate incidents.

The Prairie Island Dakota Indian Community, or Mdewakanton, "those who were born of the waters," in their own language, live on an island -- and floodplain -- in the Mississippi River in Minnesota not far from the Twin Cities. Against their will and without their consent, Northern States Power (now Xcel) constructed twin pressurized water reactors on the island in 1974, and have operated them ever since. Dry cask storage for high-level radioactive waste has been installed just hundreds of yards from the nearest tribal residents, and tribal day care center. Last summer, NRC rubberstamped 20 year license extensions, allowing the two reactors to operate for 60 years, till 2034.

Tritium, a clinically proven cause of cancer, birth defects, and genetic mutations, has previously leaked at Prairie Island in past years and decades. Hydrazine is itself an extremely hazardous toxic chemical, used in nuclear power plants as an anti-corrosive solvent.

Something is suspicious about Xcel waiting over 2 months, till last Thursday, to report a tritium spill from November 2011, only to now report a second, very similar-sounding spill of tritium, hydrazine, and other toxic chemicals, which apparently occurred on Friday. A serious question is -- do residents of the Prairie Island Indian Community immediately next door drink well water? If yes, is it contaminated with radioactivity or toxic chemicals from these (or other) leaks from the nuclear power plant? At what concentrations?

Update on February 8, 2012 by Registered Commenteradmin

The Saint Paul, Minnesota Pioneer Press ran a front page article about the recent spills at Prairie Island nuclear power plant, quoting Beyond Nuclear's Kevin Kamps responding to Xcel Energy's and the NRC's downplaying of the risks of the tritium spills:

"But Kevin Kamps, a radioactive-waste specialist at Beyond Nuclear, a Maryland-based watchdog group that focuses on the nuclear power industry, said it was irresponsible to claim that there was no danger.

'We do take exception to that flippant disregard they have. Tritium is a clinically proven cause of cancer, birth defects, and genetic mutations,' Kamps said. 'It's long known that any exposure carries a health risk.'

...But just because the level is below the EPA's limit does not mean there's no risk, Kamps said.

'It's long known that any exposure to radioactivity, no matter how small, still carries a risk of cancer," he said. "And those risks accumulate over a lifetime."

The articles reports that Xcel Energy did not notify the Prairie Island Indian Community, located 600 yards from the nuclear power plant, about last November's spill until last week, and waited till Monday to notify them about last Friday's spill, as it had occurred "after business hours" just before a weekend.

Article originally appeared on Beyond Nuclear (http://www.beyondnuclear.org/).
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