August 1, 2008

Unit at Prairie Island Nuclear Plant Shuts Down Unexpectedly

By Leslie Brooks Suzukamo, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.

Aug. 1--One of the two units at the Prairie Island Nuclear Plant near Red Wing automatically shut down Thursday during routine testing and remains shut today, Xcel Energy said this morning.

The shutdown of Unit 1 occurred at 8:17 a.m. Thursday and was reported to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which is standard procedure. NRC staff members regularly stationed at the power plant are investigating the cause of the shutdown, which is unknown at this time, Xcel spokeswoman Mary Sandok said.

No injuries were reported and there was no release of radiation either inside or outside the plant, Sandok said. About 400 people work at the plant and continue to be on the job even with one unit shut, Sandok said.

Xcel does not expect the shutdown to affect its ability to supply power. Xcel can use natural gas peaking power plants to quickly call up more generating capacity or it can buy power from other utilities on the power grid if necessary, Sandok said.

The utility expects to be helped by the approaching weekend. Power usage generally goes down over the weekend because businesses and industry are shut, Sandok said.

Prairie Island generates 1,076 megawatts of electricity, which is enough to power about 750,000 homes when both units are operating at full capacity. The plant's two units were operating at 100 percent power before the outage and Unit 2 continues to operate at full power, Sandok said.

Minneapolis-based Xcel has asked the state Public Utilities Commission

to be allowed to increase the Prairie Island Nuclear Plant's generating capacity to 1,240 megawatts and store more of its spent reactor fuel in above-ground storage facilities on site.

The utility also applied to the NRC to renew the operating license for the 40-year-old twin reactors by another 20 years. Xcel says it needs them to meet growth in electricity demand while still reducing its dependence on coal-fired plants that produce carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.

Xcel has a 600-megawatt nuclear power plant in Monticello, where it is seeking to increase the generating capacity by about 70 megawatts.

Leslie Brooks Suzukamo can be reached at 651-228-5475.


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