Prairie Island looks at 20 more years

16 April 2008

Xcel Energy could have its licence to operate both reactors at the Prairie Island nuclear power plant extended by 20 years.


The company submitted an application for the licence extension to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) yesterday.


Prairie Island 
Prairie Island (Image: NMC)
The two pressurized water reactors at the site started operation in 1973 and 1974 and were issued with 40-year operating licenses in line with their design life. Over time, however, nuclear operators have found that well-maintained nuclear power units can be prepared to operate beyond this arbitrary lifespan and to date some 48 of the USA's 104 power reactors have had 20-year licence extensions granted by the NRC.


One complication with relicensing Prairie Island is the capacity of the used nuclear fuel storage area of the plant. Covering 6.2 hectares, the space is designed to hold 40 years-worth of used nuclear fuel in about 29 containers. Xcel is finalizing an application for a Certificate of Need from the Minnesota Utilities Commission which would allow the company to add another six containers within the same area.



Xcel's Bird Cam


"Signs of spring and baby birds are everywhere," says Xcel Energy's Bird Cam website. The company has set up webcams to keep tabs on rare birds that have taken their homes around its power plants. Sadly, no exciting creatures have taken root at its nuclear sites, Prairie Island and Monticello. 


Falcon Cam

A shot from the Falcon Cam

The Certificate of Need application will also ask state authorities for permission to upgrade the two reactors' output by about 80 MWe each, taking the plant's total to almost 1240 MWe.


Dave Sparby, acting president and CEO of Xcel subsidiary Northern States Power Company-Minnesota, said: "Our analysis shows that continuing to operate the Prairie Island reactors is a cost-effective option for meeting our cutomers' growing demand for electricity while helping us accomplish state policymakers' environmental objectives for carbon reductions."


He added that, "Continued operation of our nuclear plants also enhances our fuel diversity, which provides a valuable hedge on price risks and potential carbon regulation costs."


Xcel expects the NRC to decide on the application in 2010.