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Northern States Power/Xcel (NSP/Xcel), the Minnesota company that operates the Monticello nuclear reactor, was accused in July of falsifying federal quality control records in order to cover up failed tests of welding quality. The welds are on heavy steel storage casks holding highly radioactive waste uranium fuel rods, the most long-lasting and most radioactive waste there is.
Six large waste storage casks are known to have been inadequately tested welding, according to Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) inspectors. Five of the casks have already been closed up and placed in large, concrete vaults which are in the open air just outside the reactor building sit on the Mississippi River.
Monticello, 35 miles Northwest of Minneapolis, is a GE Mark I reactor of the same design and age as the destroyed reactors at Fukushima, in Northeast Japan. During Fukushima’s self-destruction and melting of three reactors -- which caused global radiation contamination -- US citizens were told to evacuate within 50 miles, so for Monticello the Twin Cities is in The Zone.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune’s July 28 report on NSP/Xcel’s skullduggery was titled:
“Feds Allege Xcel Contractors Falsified Weld Tests At Monticello Nuclear Plant: Contractors In Monticello, The Report Says, Didn’t Follow Testing Protocol On Casks Holding Nuclear Waste.”
Staff reporter David Shaffer wrote:
“Federal investigators have accused two former contract employees for Xcel Energy Inc. of willfully violating procedures and falsifying reports about safety-related tests of casks filled with high-level nuclear waste stored at the Monticello, Minn., nuclear power plant.
“The findings released Monday by investigators for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) also allege that Xcel officials did not monitor the work of the contract employees as they placed dye on welds to look for cracks in late 2013. The improper testing was discovered by an NRC inspector who checked videos of the work.
“After the problem was discovered, Xcel said, the casks were rechecked before most of them were placed in a concrete bunker outside the reactor building. They could remain on the site for years because no permanent national storage site has been built for such waste.
“ ‘We are confident the storage canisters are safe and secure, and the welds are good,’ Laura McCarten, regional vice president for Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy, said in an interview.”
NSP/Xcel wants the public, its ratepayers, Monticello’s neighbors, and the federal NRC, to just ignore its unlawful fabrication of test results, and to take on faith that the use of at least six inadequately welded waste casks is safe enough.
In a July 16, 2014 request to the NRC the company asked for “An exemption to the requirements” for the canisters “due to non-conforming dye penetrant examinations performed during the loading.” NSP/Xcel didn’t explain how it had earned an exemption. After being caught faking and falsifying, we’re supposed to believe the public company’s claim that “the storage canisters are safe and secure, and the welds are good.” Tim O’Connor, NSP/Xcel senior vice president and chief nuclear officer, may have produced the laugh line of the year, when he told the Monticello City Council: “There isn’t an issue with the welds, only the post-weld inspection.”
‘Good’ but Not Good Enough
In its exemption request, NSP/Xcel asserts that it: “has determined a reasonable assurance of safety exists for the current condition of all six DSCs [for dry shielded canisters] with due consideration of the nonconforming examinations.” The company’s petition also claims that it “has determined that the integrity of the field closure welds for [casks numbering] 11 through 16 can be assured with confidence even though the Technical Specification required examinations were non-conforming.” For some reason, this assertion goes completely unsubstantiated.
The Union of Concerned Scientists reports that more than 280 metric tons of ferociously radioactive waste fuel is stored in the elevated cooling pool at Monticello. The pool keeps the fuel from overheating and catching fire. After 43 years of operation, this cooling pool now holds more than three reactor cores worth of waste fuel rods. There are another 180 tons of waste fuel in dry casks outside. Every year another 10 to 20 tons of the deadly waste fuel accumulate. The reason welding quality is so critical, is that the casks could have to hold the radioactivity for 100 years before a permanent storage plan is found. Even then, the welds have to be spectacular if the casks are used for long-distance shipment to other locations.
All of this risk taking is brought to us by the industry that caused Winsdcale, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. The same industrialists gave us exploding waste containers in Feb. 2014 at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, New Mexico, and at the Point Beach reactor on Lake Michigan in Wisconsin in May 1996. What could go wrong at Monticello?
John LaForge is a co-director of Nukewatch and edits its Quarterly newsletter.