Investigators to examine alert response following chemical leak at nuclear plant

By Rupa Shenoy, Minnesota Public Radio

St. Paul, Minn. – Two local inspectors for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission are at the Prairie Island Nuclear plant to observe Xcel Energy’s response to an alert.

The alert was declared early Thursday morning after a worker saw a break in a pipe supplying a tank full of chlorine bleach. About 500 gallons of bleach had emptied into a surrounding ditch. The alert ended later that afternoon.

The federal agency will continue to investigate, NRC spokeswoman Prema Chandrathil said. The investigation is routine following an alert.

“We want to have a full understanding as to what happened, how the utility responded, and we want to make sure they took the proper steps in order to maintain safety and security at the power plant,” Chandrathil said.

Xcel says a crew will clean the spill by early evening. The utility says no one was hurt, no radiation was released, and the power plant continues to work at full capacity.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety says there has never been an alert at Prairie Island before.

The Prairie Island Indian Community, which sits 600 yards from the nuclear generation plant, released a statement, saying its council president, Johnny Johnson, was notified about the alert at about 4:41 a.m. and immediately activated the tribe’s Emergency Response Plan. The release says Xcel told the tribe repeatedly in the early morning that there was no danger.

The statement goes on to say television news reported “there was a radiation leak at the plant and that the schools in Prescott and Ellsworth, Wisconsin were closed or delayed because of the leak.” The statement does not name the television stations.

The tribe says it was concerned about which reports were accurate. Tribe officials confirmed the initial report of no danger with Xcel and then used the community’s phone notification system to relay that message directly to worried residents.

“We don’t know how all of this information was communicated, why the news media reported what they did, or why the school districts in Wisconsin closed schools today,” the Prairie Island Indian Community statement says. “Unfortunately, living in the shadow of a nuclear power plant, our members are on pins and needles. Our biggest fear is that there will be some type of accident at the plant, and this type of event can cause people to assume the worst. We need to have clear and accurate information.”