The public is just getting word on a leak at a Minnesota nuclear power plant—a leak first reported to state and federal agencies in November. CBS News reports that the 400,000 gallons of water laced with tritium broke out of a water pipe connecting two buildings at Xcel Energy's Monticello plant. Per state officials, the Nov. 21 leak has since been halted from spreading beyond the facility. "This is a very localized leak, it is not migrated off-site, there has been no risk to public health or public safety," says Dan Huff, assistant commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Health, adding that Xcel is continuing to ensure it "reclaims" the contaminated water.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency offered assurance as well, despite the fact that groundwater beneath the plant does flow toward the Mississippi River. "There is no evidence at this time to indicate a risk to any drinking water wells in the vicinity of the plant," or to the river, the agency says. Tritium does on occasion leak from nuclear power plants, but those leaks are usually contained, and public safety and health aren't affected, the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission adds, per the BBC, which explains that tritium is a radioactive hydrogen isotope that doesn't carry well in the air and can't break through human skin.
So far, Xcel says the reclamation process has recovered about a quarter of the released tritium; efforts are expected to continue over the course of the next year or so. The company notes that it plans on powering down the plant in April so it can take out the busted pipe and fix it, and officials there are also hoping they can figure out why it broke in the first place. As for why the news is just finding its way to the public now, Xcel says it wanted to gather more intel first on what went wrong, per the AP. "Now that we have all the information about where the leak occurred, how much was released into groundwater, and that contaminated groundwater had moved beyond the original location, we are sharing this information," says an MPCA spokesperson. (Read more radioactive leaks stories.)