Our Prairie Island and Monticello nuclear generating plants in Minnesota produce safe, reliable, low-cost, carbon-free power, delivering enough electricity to serve the needs of approximately 1.5 million homes in the Upper Midwest. We are committed to operating our nuclear plants safely and to being a good neighbor to our host communities: the cities of Monticello and Red Wing, Minn., and the Prairie Island Indian Community.
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 to operate. Nuclear power plants are a key element in the stability of our country's electricity grid.
Still, nuclear technology is unique. It requires us to understand and appreciate the serious responsibility of working in the nuclear industry, to commit to placing safety first and to doing the safe and conservative thing in all situations, all the time. Events such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States and the Fukushima Daiichi accident in Japan have served to heighten awareness and regulation among all nuclear generating operators.
Learn more about our Prairie Island plant.
Learn more about our Monticello plant.
3:2:1 Initiative: Three Quartiles, Two Years, One Fleet
In 2013, we launched a goal across our nuclear fleet to move up three INPO (Institute of Nuclear Power Operations) performance quartiles within two years. Our 3:2:1 performance improvement program is intended to close the gap between current levels of performance and top-quartile levels. To accomplish this, both Monticello and Prairie Island built scorecards with six key areas of focus:
- Safety systems
- Machine performance
- Leadership effectiveness
- Independent assessment
- Regulatory margin
- Sustainability pipeline
Progress in each of these performance areas is assessed frequently. 3:2:1 is focused primarily on striving for top-quartile operating performance at our plants, with additional emphasis on building and sustaining a talented pipeline of people. Our other nuclear strategic cornerstones include optimizing capital spending and improving productivity and efficiency.
An objective that ties together all of our strategic cornerstones is our Strive for 95% objective. Our goal is to have our plants performing at high reliability continuously—to generate power for the two-year refueling cycle at an average of 95 percent capacity factor. Providing high reliability at a predictable cost supports our revenue objective of recovering our costs and earning a fair return for the smart investments we make.
To achieve and sustain excellence at our Monticello and Prairie Island nuclear generating plants, we must have a strong nuclear safety culture that includes industrial, environmental, radiological and nuclear safety. While it has now been three years since the events at Fukushima Daiichi in Japan, attention to nuclear safety as a top priority has not changed. We made safety and security upgrades to our plants following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States and already had more safety features built into our plants than did the Fukushima Daiichi plant in early 2011.
Following the events of September 11, 2001, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued orders to plant operators requiring several measures aimed at mitigating the effects of a large fire, explosion or accident. These were meant to deal with the aftermath of a terrorist attack or plane crash; however, they would also be effective in responding to natural phenomena such as tornadoes, earthquakes or tsunami.
As part of their continued response to the Fukushima Daiichi events in Japan, the NRC has required all nuclear plants in the United States to analyze their own performance given a series of hypothetical seismic and flood scenarios, and have asked the plant operators to submit their reports by the end of March 2014. Xcel Energy has submitted our analyses of those hypothetical worst-case scenarios. We believe that both the Prairie Island and Monticello plants would be able to withstand those natural disaster scenarios. However, we are ready to make improvements if we determine they are necessary to respond to specific situations, or are required by NRC’s updated regulatory guidelines.
Safety is our number one priority, and it is key to the performance improvement envisioned in the 3:2:1 initiative. We remain committed to continuous improvement in the safety and operations of our nuclear plants.
Learn more about safety at Xcel Energy’s nuclear generating plants.
Nuclear Plant License Renewals and Upgrades
Xcel Energy’s two nuclear generating plants, Monticello and Prairie Island, have provided safe, reliable, economic and environmentally sound power to the Upper Midwest for more than 40 years. Both plants are well maintained and operated and are fully capable of producing power safely and reliably for decades to come. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has approved 20-year license extensions for both plants, authorizing operations to 2030 for Monticello and 2033 and 2034 for the two units at Prairie Island.
In 2013, we completed a six-year Life Cycle Management and Extended Power Uprate project at Monticello. All major equipment was replaced, and in some ways the plant resembles a new facility today. Once the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission completes its review of the project, Monticello will increase electric generation output from 600 megawatts to 671 megawatts. We expect a final authorization to increase power output some time in 2014. Completing the project took longer and cost more than we anticipated, but it was essential that it be done right. Evolving federal regulatory standards and schedules, installation complexities and a broader project scope than originally anticipated all contributed to the increase in costs.
At Prairie Island, we are making significant capital investments to replace Unit 2 steam generators, extend our dry fuel storage expansion and complete work on our main transformer. Our steam generator replacement work is currently in line with our estimated costs and outage durations. We will also be working to complete mandated regulatory projects focused on safety and cybersecurity in the coming years.
Nuclear Waste Disposal
Xcel Energy’s two nuclear generating plants, Monticello and Prairie Island, produce no greenhouse gas emissions in their production of electricity. They do produce low-level and high-level (used nuclear fuel) radioactive wastes that are isolated from the environment and are disposed of safely in accordance with NRC regulation in NRC licensed facilities. Until they are safely disposed, they are stored on an interim basis on-site. Monticello and Prairie Island keep used nuclear fuel on-site in wet and dry storage facilities also licensed by the NRC.
Currently Prairie Island is renewing the license for its dry fuel storage installation also known as an Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation (ISFSI). The application to renew the Prairie Island ISFSI license is pending before the NRC. The Prairie Island Indian Community (PIIC) has intervened in the ISFSI license renewal process and an NRC appointed Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) will adjudicate the contentions that the PIIC has raised prior to the renewed license being issued.
Xcel Energy continues to follow the efforts of the federal government to fulfill their obligations under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to remove used nuclear fuel from Xcel Energy’s sites. The Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future issued its recommended plan in January 2012 and the Department of Energy issued its plan for implementing the Blue Ribbon Commission’s recommendations in January 2013, including the identification of enabling legislation needed from Congress. Xcel Energy is working with the nuclear industry, including the Nuclear Energy Institute and the Nuclear Waste Strategy Coalition to ensure that Congress understands the need for action.