Nuclear Power Plant Leaks

Charlie Eggers, Editor

This year we have seen numerous environmental disasters. In 2023 alone the United States is averaging 1 chemical disaster a day. Some are of course larger than others. For instance, the East Palestine chemical leak in early February was one of the worst chemical leaks in recent years. In this specific disaster, 100,000 gallons of hazardous chemicals were dumped and burned. The hope was that the chemicals did not get into the water, but they did which expands the scale of the disaster. 

You are probably wondering, “what does this have to do with Minnesota?” The answer is that in recent weeks, Minnesota has had a possible environmental disaster unfolding right before us. 

Unlike the East Palestine chemical leak, the Minnesota leak stemmed from a major power producer, the Excel nuclear power plant located in Monticello, Minnesota. The leak was detected more than four months ago. It was estimated that almost 400,000 gallons of contaminated water leaked out of a broken water pipe. After finding out Excel reported the leak to both state and federal agencies such as the Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. It wasn’t until 4 months later that the state of Minnesota decided to tell the public about the chemical leak. 

In recent weeks, Excel announced last week that they were powering the plant down because they detected even more chemicals leaking into the groundwater. In addition, Excel has attempted to clean up the chemical that was leaked and has successfully recovered just over 30% of the chemical. Excel also has been on damage control with the residents surrounding the powerplant where Excel held a town hall meeting for residents to voice their concerns about the leak. 

The chemical that leaked out from the plant was called tritium. Tritium is essential for nuclear power plants to create and successfully control nuclear fusion in the process of creating power. Being a part of fusion you would probably expect that tritium is also radioactive, it is, but not in the sense that if you drink a glass of water you would die of radiation poisoning. Tritium has low radioactivity and a half-life of 12 years. The main radioactive particle that is released from tritium is the beta-particle. The beta-particles that are released from tritium are non-skin piercing and if ingested it would not cause harm unless consumed in very large amounts. 

The good news about this whole situation is that Excel has been able to keep tritium contained and recover some of the tritium. This result will lessen the impact that it could cause if it were to leak to the nearby Mississippi. Moreover, the amount of tritium-contaminated water would be immediately diluted if it were to reach the Mississippi river. 

When asking students at the University of Minnesota about the leak, Sophomore Jack BukenBerger said, “Even Though this leak wasn’t catastrophic to our environment, it’s still concerning how often stuff like this keeps happening. In this year alone it feels like I’m hearing about someplace having a chemical spill.” 

As Jack Buckenberger said something sure needs to be done about the volume of chemical spills that are happening this year alone. All of these events have shed light on chemical leaks and how if we don’t have more regulations and safety precautions, we could destroy our own water supply. In East Palestine, we saw how a whole river basin could be contaminated off of one leak. In Minnesota, we got lucky that we did not have such a harmful chemical that leaked. In the land of 10,000 lakes, we have to keep our waterways clean and avoid any more events like what happened in Monticello or even worse East Palestine because it would cause devastating effects.