City officials: Monticello's water system not affected by radioactive water leak

Six nuclear cooling towers are seen in front of a gray sky.
Cooling towers release heat generated by boiling water reactors at Xcel Energy's Nuclear Generating Plant in Monticello, Minn. in Oct. 2019.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2019

City officials in Monticello, Minn., say the city’s water wells are not affected by the leak of radioactive water reported at the nearby Xcel Energy nuclear power plant.

State and Xcel officials announced Thursday 400,000 gallons of water contaminated with tritium leaked from a water pipe between two buildings at the plant.

Tritium is a radioactive form of hydrogen; it occurs naturally in the atmosphere and is also produced through fission in nuclear reactors. It’s hazardous in high concentrations — but only by ingesting it.

Monticello city administrator Rachel Leonard said Friday that the city has what’s called a wellhead protection plan for the five deep wells that provide water to the city. That plan models the flow of groundwater that the wells draw from.

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“The groundwater that is coming into to feed our wells is ... outside of anything that’s connected to Xcel,” Leonard said — and she said there’s no connection between water systems for the city and the power plant.

a map that shows xcel monticello nuclear plant
Water containing a radioactive form of hydrogen, tritium, leaked out of Xcel Energy's nuclear power plant in Monticello, Minn., in November, state officials said Thursday.
Nicole Johnson | MPR News via Datawrapper

The city said its five wells all are east of State Highway 25; the plant is about 3 miles west of the highway.

“While we know that the news (about) the leak at the plant is really unsettling, we just really want the community to know that we continue to take that responsibility for the public water and the drinking water system really seriously, continue to test the water, and continue to make sure that we are providing that service as safely and as effectively as possible,” Leonard said.

State officials said Thursday that Xcel first reported the water leak in November. City officials said they were made aware of high levels of tritium at Xcel’s facility and had been working with the utility to better understand the situation. Xcel had reported elevated levels of tritium in a monitoring well at the plant at least once before, in 2009.

But Leonard said Friday the city was not notified about the water leak, or its extent, until late February — and they’re continuing to work with Xcel and other agencies to gather information and address residents’ concerns

“We’re really acting as a conduit to kind of connect all of that information to the public, rather than necessarily being the people who immediately have that information,” Leonard said. “We just continue to strive to get that information from credible sources as quickly as possible and share it with the community as well. We really want to make sure that we’re continuing to advocate for the public and for the people who who live in our community.”

The city has posted more information for residents on its website, including information for people who use private wells.