2 Minn. Nuclear Plant Upgrades Factor in Lessons From Japan Disaster

Monday, 05 Mar 2012 05:10 PM

By Greg McDonald

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Lessons learned from the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan a year ago are being used for expensive upgrades to Minnesota’s two nuclear power plants as a precaution against meltdowns, according to the Minneapolis StarTribune.

Minneapolis-based utility Xcel Energy, which owns the Monticello and Prairie Island plants, is expected to spend up to $50 million for more diesel pumps and generators to pump water on damaged reactors in the event of a natural disaster or accident.

Just last week, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the first safety upgrade measures for American nuclear plants since the Japanese catastrophe on March 11, 2011, when a 9.0 earthquake and tsunami damaged the Fukushima reactors and caused a radiation leak. The measures are designed to bolster the safety operations already in place at the nation’s 104 nuclear reactors.

“We are talking about large diesel pumps, with the capability of sucking water from the river and pumping it into the reactor vessel, similar to what the Japanese ultimately ended up doing,” Dennis Koehl, Xcel’s chief nuclear officer and a member of the U.S. nuclear industry’s post-Fukushima steering committee, told the Star Tribune.

Some critics of the U.S. nuclear industry are criticizing Xcel’s plans, suggesting that more expensive equipment specifically designed for nuclear facilities should be bought and deployed.

“This is a public relations measure to create the illusion that the industry is jointly taking the issue seriously,” said Christopher Paine, who directs the nuclear watchdog program for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In an interview with the newspaper, Xcel’s Koehl acknowledged that the cost would be much more if the utility were forced to buy nuclear-qualified equipment for the safety upgrade, which also would include having to build earthquake-proof buildings to house it.

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