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Regulator explains ‘fish kill’ near leaky US nuclear plant – Reuters

A temporary fix at the facility failed last week, leading to further contamination

A Minnesota state regulator says hundreds of fish were killed after a nuclear power plant was forced to shut down due to a radioactive leak. A previous breach at the same site caused hundreds of thousands of gallons of contaminated water to spill into the environment.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) said about 230 fish were killed not by radioactive contamination, but as a result of the shutdown, which was launched last Friday after the discovery of a another leak at the Xcel Energy nuclear plant in Monticello near Minneapolis.

“As part of its normal operations, hot water from the Monticello plant enters the river, which the fish get used to. The fish kills are unfortunate but not unexpected given the significant temperature change that can occur when hot water from the plant stops flowing to the river during a shutdown,” the regulator said in a statement on Monday, adding that animals affected include bass, channel catfish, common carp and one or more species of sucker fish.

The plant was taken out of service on Friday to allow work crews to fix the leak. While a temporary fix was attempted after the problem was first spotted last year, the fix failed, leading to further contamination of the ground around the facility. Monitoring equipment at the site showed that “hundreds of gallons” of contaminated water had leaked since the first repair.

Xcel Energy insisted the leak posed no threat to public safety and has since been repaired, while officials say the irradiated water has yet to reach the nearby Mississippi River. However, the operator acknowledged that some of the material was found in groundwater around the plant, which ultimately drains into the Mississippi.

The contaminated water carries the radioactive isotope tritium, 400,000 gallons of which spilled into the ground from a broken pipe before the leak was noticed last November. Although the plant operator and the local government had been aware of the problem for months, the public was not informed until mid-March.

Tritium is a mildly radioactive isotope of hydrogen, often found in water used to cool nuclear reactors. The only way it can affect people is by breathing it in or drinking tritiated water, said Daniel Huff, assistant commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Health.

Although Xcel said it had fixed the latest leak, it’s unclear when the factory will be back online, with company president Chris Clark unable to provide an exact timeline during a press conference last week. Nevertheless, he said he did not foresee any significant impact on electrical service, saying Xcel had “a sufficient margin” to supply customers.

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