Regulators stated a leak at a nuclear plant did not necessitate public notification

Minnesota regulators were aware of a radioactive waste leak from a nuclear power plant in Monticello four months ago, but they did not make a public announcement about the leak until recently.

The recent disclosure of a radioactive waste leak from a nuclear power plant in Monticello, Minnesota, has raised concerns about transparency and public safety in different US news websites. The state regulators were informed of the leak four months ago, in November, but the public was not notified until recently. However, industry experts have reassured the public that there is no threat to public health.

Opinions of different experts

According to them, Xcel Energy, the power company, voluntarily reported the leak of tritium to state agencies and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission once it was confirmed. Moreover, the 400,000-gallon (1.5 million-liter) radioactive water leak did not reach a level that would have necessitated public notification.

According to state officials, they held off on making a public announcement about the leak in November until they could gather more information. Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that is naturally present in the environment and is often produced as a byproduct of nuclear plant operations. As per the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the isotope emits low-energy beta radiation that has a limited range and cannot penetrate human skin.

According to Edwin Lyman, director of nuclear power safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists, tritium poses a health risk only when consumed in relatively high amounts. As per Xcel Energy and Minnesota officials, the plume of radioactive waste did not leave the company’s site, which means the risk is contained.

Lyman also mentioned that companies typically take action when elevated levels of contaminants are detected through onsite monitoring wells. Therefore, if regulatory officials confirm that the waste did not move offsite, people need not worry about safety.

Notification of the leak on the site

On November 23, the commission published a notification about the leak on its website, which indicated that the plant had reported the leak to the state a day earlier. The report classified the leak as a nonemergency, and the notice mentioned that the source of the tritium was investigated at the time.

Before Thursday, there was limited public notification regarding the leak. According to Rafferty, it is the facility’s responsibility to disclose information about such incidents, and state agencies would have notified the public immediately if there was a health or environmental threat.

Rafferty also stated that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency chose to share information about its oversight of the cleanup at this time due to the availability of more specific details regarding the contamination’s location, potential movement, and plans for remediation, including the short-term storage of contaminated water.

According to Mitlyng, the tritium cannot enter the drinking water as the facility has monitoring wells to track the progression of contaminants, and there are inspectors from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission overseeing the response. The plant’s employees can detect higher amounts of tritium through groundwater monitoring wells placed in concentric circles. Xcel Energy stated that the leak originated from a pipe that connected two buildings.

Xcel Energy is contemplating constructing storage tanks above ground to store the retrieved contaminated water and considering various alternatives for the treatment, reuse, or final disposal of the collected tritium and water. The state Pollution Control Agency stated that state regulators will assess the options the company selects.

According to the regulatory commission, tritium spills are common at nuclear plants, but they have either been restricted to plant properties or involved such low offsite levels that they did not affect public health. In 2009, Xcel Energy reported a minor tritium leak at Monticello.

The Monticello nuclear plant is situated 35 miles (55 kilometers) northwest of Minneapolis, and it is upstream from the city on the Mississippi River.


Shelby Burma, who resides just minutes away from the spill site, expressed her concerns that the US news websites talks about the nuclear plant leak has compounded her worries about the growing number of chemicals in the environment. This concern comes just weeks after a train derailment on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border left behind worries about contaminated air, soil, and groundwater.

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