Cracked Fuel Rods

As Reported by the St. Paul Pioneer Press…

A major manufacturer in the nuclear industry is reporting a potential “substantial safety hazard” with control rods at more than two dozen nuclear reactors around the country, including the Xcel Energy plant near Monticello. An Xcel spokeswoman said the affected blades would be replaced next month.

GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy told federal regulators that has discovered extensive cracking and “material distortion,” and likely would recommend that the boiling water reactors using its Marathon control rod blades replace them more frequently than they had been told to previously.

Both David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists and Arnold Gundersen, a former nuclear industry engineer who now frequently consults with groups critical of the industry, said the faulty blades could make affected control rods inoperable.

“It could either slow down or stop the control rod from inserting” when plant operators were trying to reduce power or shut a plant down, Lochbaum said.

Xcel Energy spokeswoman Mary Sandok said Thursday that Monticello plant officials have determined that four out of 121 control rod blades at the reactor potentially could be affected by the issue.

The four blades will be replaced in a refueling outage scheduled to begin in early March, Sandok said.

“The issue raised by GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy does not present a safety concern at Monticello Nuclear Generating Plant,” Sandok said. “This is a long-term aging issue that is several years out in the future.”

The potential hazard with the control rod blades does not affect Xcel’s Prairie Island Nuclear Power Plant near Red Wing, Sandok said. Prairie Island uses pressurized steam reactors, different from the boiling water technology at the Monticello plant, she said.

The 600-megawatt Monticello plant first began operations in 1970. It received federal approval in 2006 to extend its operations by 20 more years until 2030.

The Associated Press and Leslie Brooks Suzukamo contributed to this story.

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