Prairie Island Nuclear Power Plant

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Prairie Island Nuclear Power Plant
The Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant is an electricity-generating facility located in Red Wing, Minnesota along the Mississippi River, adjacent to the Prairie Island Indian Community reservation. The nuclear power plant, which first began operating in 1973, has two nuclear reactors ( pressurized water reactors) made by Westinghouse that produce a total 1,076 megawatts of power. They are licensed to operate through 2013 and 2014. The plant is owned by Northern States Power Company (NSP), today a subsidiary of Xcel Energy, and is operated by Xcel Energy and no longer operated by the Nuclear Management Company (NMC). It is one of two active nuclear facilities in Minnesota and has proven to be the most controversial due to the storage of nuclear waste in large steel casks on-site, an area which is a floodplain of the Mississippi. In April 2008, Xcel requested that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) renew the licenses of both reactors, extending them for an additional twenty years. The license renewals are not expected until June 2011. The company has also requested the use of a similar storage system at its Monticello plant, which is currently licensed through 2030. In May 2006 repair workers at the plant were exposed to very low levels of radiation due to inhalation of radioactive iodine-131 ( 131I) gas. The gas leaked from the steam generators, which were opened for inspection. 131I gas is normally removed by means of a carbon-based filter; in this case the filter had developed a small leak. The NRC deemed this event to be of very low safety significance and notes that it did not result in any overdose.

Spent fuel storage
NSP had initially intended to send radioactive waste to a storage facility operated by the United States federal government, but no such site is yet open for use (the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository is under construction, but following heavy opposition is no longer considered an option by the Obama Administration). In 1991, the company requested permission from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to eventually store waste in 48 dry casks on the site. Opposition by environmentalists and the neighboring Prairie Island tribe led the Minnesota Legislature to decrease the number of allowed casks to 17, enough to keep the plant operating through approximately 2003. Eventually, those casks filled, and Xcel Energy requested that the limit be expanded beyond 17 casks. The legislature granted the request, but required the company to make greater use of renewable energy such as wind power and to pay the local Indian community up to $2.25 million per year to help with evacuation improvements and the acquisition and development of new land and to help pay for a health study and emergency management activities.

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