Nuclear energy is America’s largest source of clean-air, carbon-free electricity and produces no greenhouse gases. As an integral part of the U.S. energy mix, nuclear power is a secure energy source that the nation can depend on. Nuclear power plants generate electricity uninterrupted for extended periods—as long as 24 months. They help supply the necessary level of base-load power for the electricity transmission network, or grid, to operate. (Base-load plants are the system’s backbone, providing reliable, low-cost power 24 hours a day, seven days a week.) Nuclear power plants are a key element in the stability of our country's electricity grid.
Along with coal- and natural gas-fired power plants, nuclear plants are the workhorses of the U.S. electricity system. Nuclear plants produce nearly 20 percent of our nation’s electricity. They are the lowest-cost producers of base-load electricity in terms of operating, maintenance and fuel costs.
Xcel Energy owns and operates two nuclear power plants: Monticello Nuclear Generating Plant near Monticello, MN, and Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant near Red Wing, MN. These plants produce nearly 30 percent of the electricity we provide to customers in the Upper Midwest.
Nuclear power is unique because of the technology used to produce it, and the operators at each facility take their responsibility to keep the plant and community safe seriously. Safety is at the heart of everything we do. Through training, maintaining the plants’ many safety systems, and conducting drills, our teams know exactly how to respond in the event of an emergency. We have won the Governor’s Safety Award from the Minnesota Safety Council 15 consecutive years.
Our two facilities provide nearly 30 percent of the electricity used by Xcel Energy customers in the Upper Midwest. Nuclear power plants produce electricity 24 hours a day, except when shut down for refueling or maintenance. They are a large part of our base-load generation. Nationally, the nuclear fleet produces at a capacity factor over 90 percent. That is, the units are producing electricity 90 percent of the time they could possibly be doing so, which is more than any other generation source in the United States. That reliability helps balance the entire distribution and transmission system.
Xcel Energy’s nuclear power plants help us avoid producing hundreds of millions of tons of greenhouse gases during their operating lives. Our nuclear resources have been the backbone of our clean energy system for decades. Nuclear is also central to meeting our ambitious proposal for a clean energy future for the Upper Midwest: a 60% carbon reduction, and 63% carbon-free generation mix by 2030.
Our employees follow the traits of a healthy nuclear safety culture (external link). The industry defines this as the core values and behaviors resulting from a collective commitment to emphasize safety.
We create an environment where safety is our first priority and drives each decision we make. Workers can raise concerns without fear of retaliation. We track issues that may affect safety, and we identify how we can correct these actions so they don’t continue or worsen.
Nuclear energy is produced by a process called fission where uranium atoms are split inside a reactor. The heat from fission is used to produce steam, which spins a turbine to produce electricity.
Uranium pellets are inserted into fuel rod assemblies, which are inserted into the reactor core. The core heats water which produces steam.
A single uranium pellet the size of a pencil eraser contains the same amount of energy as 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas, 1,780 pounds of coal, or 149 gallons of oil.
Xcel Energy’s two plants employ nearly 1,400 people full-time as well as hundreds of specialized contractors, of which many are highly skilled and trained engineers and operators. For more information on careers in nuclear energy, visit the Nuclear Energy Institute website (external link). Our employees also live close to their facilities, volunteer in their communities and raise their families there. Our employees donate both their time and money to local non-profit organizations. We don’t just provide electricity to power the communities we serve, we are part of those communities.
In addition to being employment engines in their communities, the plants also provide significant tax benefits to local communities, from property taxes to local purchases. In 2015 we paid about $35 Million in local and state taxes. Our operations leads to $322 Million in goods & services purchased each year. We work with many local companies to source parts and services. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, every dollar spent by the typical nuclear power plant results in the creation of $1.04 in the local community, $1.08 in the state’s economy, and $1.87 in the U.S. economy.
When removed from the reactor, used fuel is stored in a pool inside the plant until it has cooled enough to be safely stored in steel containers and moved to an onsite dry storage facility. Each of our stations have dry cask storage systems on site which are licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Xcel Energy is working with Federal authorities to encourage development of a permanent, off-site storage facility to house used fuel from nuclear facilities around the country.
Xcel Energy built a dry cask storage facility in Monticello in 2008. It is licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and has enough capacity to store fuel through the plant’s current operation license. Ten containers were initially placed in the dry storage facility in 2008. Additional canisters are added as needed.
Xcel Energy built a dry cask storage facility at Prairie Island in 1995. It also operates under license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission has approved the storage of up to 64 casks and other equipment needed for storage. Forty casks are currently stored on-site; others will be loaded and stored as needed.
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