OPINION | Courting disaster at Prairie Island


There was another “notification of an unusual event” at Prairie Island on Wednesday, Oct. 31. This time they said it was the failure of some security equipment.

Xcel officials claimed that no radioactive materials were released and that there was no danger to the public or to their employees. Prairie Island, located about 28 miles southeast of the Twin Cities, generates 1,076 megawatts of electricity from two nuclear reactors. Unit 1 is off-line for scheduled refueling while Unit 2 remains running, Xcel officials said.

Notification of Unusual Event is the lowest of four classifications of emergencies established by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Recently, Minnesota utility regulators agreed that Xcel Energy did not need to go ahead with a $237 million power-boosting upgrade at the Prairie Island nuclear power plant. According to the Star Tribune: “Xcel Energy no longer believes spending $237 million to boost power at its Prairie Island nuclear plant near Red Wing, Minn., is a good deal for customers.

“The utility told state regulators that bigger fuel rods added to the twin reactors in expectation of increasing their output offer an unexpected savings—in the form of longer times between refueling. And that could benefit ratepayers almost as much as the power upgrade.
“ ‘At this point, we believe it is reasonable to conclude that further investment in the project will not benefit our customers,’ the Minneapolis-based utility said in a filing with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.”

The Commissioners of the Public Utilities Commission agreed and voted 5 to 0 to cancel the project.

Prairie Island was built in the early 1970s and expected to last 30 years. It is now scheduled to continue operations until the early 2030s.

They have increased electrical output by putting bigger rods into chambers that were designed for smaller rods, presumably with equipment that was supposed to be obsolete in 2000.

Isn’t anyone concerned that putting 10 pounds of poison into a 5-pound sack with outdated equipment could put the entire water table of the Mississippi River basin at risk?