On November 22nd, 2022, officials at the Monticello Nuclear Power Plant detected elevated levels of Tritium in test wells on the property. According to officials at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Xcel Energy alerted both the NRC and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) by November 23rd, 2022. While alerting the public in mid-March, 2023, Xcel energy assured area residents that the contamination is limited to plant property, and was not released into the Mississippi River.
After the leak was made public in March, several local officials released statements reassuring residents that there was no danger to their health, but many people were left asking “what is Tritium?” and “How much was detected?”.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:
Tritium (abbreviated as 3H) is a hydrogen atom that has two neutrons in the nucleus and one proton. Tritium is produced naturally in the upper atmosphere when cosmic rays strike nitrogen molecules in the air. Tritium is also produced during nuclear weapons explosions, and as a byproduct in nuclear reactors. Although tritium can be a gas, its most common form is in water because radioactive tritium reacts with oxygen to form water.
To read the EPA's Tritium Data Sheet, click here.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says like normal hydrogen, tritium can bond with oxygen to form water. The “tritiated” water is radioactive, chemically identical to water, and cannot be filtered out of water. Tritium is usually found in water and enters a person’s body when they eat or drink. Everyone is exposed to small amounts of Tritium every day.
For more information about Tritium from the NRC, click here.
The NRC and MPCA require nuclear plant operators to monitor test wells, and if Tritium is detected, investigate the causes, initiate appropriate corrective action, and report to the NRC within 30 days from the end of the quarter.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency says the level detected in the test wells was 5.02 million picocuries per liter. The Environmental Protection Agency has set the maximum level for Tritium in drinking water at 20,000 picocuries per liter. The minimum level of Tritium allowed in plant test wells was not known during calls from WJON radio to the NRC. Officials from the MPCA referred all questions to the NRC.
A statement from Xcel Energy dated March 16th says the company determined the Tritium water leak was from a pipe running between two buildings. The radiation levels were so low that, even if it did reach a water supply, the water would still be safe to drink. Xcel has recovered about 25% of the estimated 400,000 gallons of tritiated water detected and will install a permanent fix to the problem in the spring.
Chris Clark, president of Xcel Energy–Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota explains where the company is in the process.
We have taken comprehensive measures to address this situation on-site at the plant. While this leak does not pose a risk to the public or the environment, we take this very seriously and are working to safely address the situation. We continue to gather and treat all potentially affected water while regularly monitoring nearby groundwater sources. We will continue to partner with local groundwater specialists, and we remain in close cooperation with state and federal regulators and our local community throughout the remediation effort.
To read the statement, click here.
The EPA reports that Tritium releases a very weak beta particle. Once Tritium enters a body, it disperses quickly and is excreted through urine within a month.
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