Xcel to Upgrade Its 2 Nuclear Plants, Spend $20M-$50M

Xcel Energy reportedly plans to spend $20 million to $50 million on safety upgrades to its two nuclear plants, a year after Japan's tsunami disaster that led to a nuclear catastrophe.

Xcel Energy is planning to spend $20 to $50 million on its two Minnesota nuclear power plants for safety upgrades and studies, according to a Star Tribune report.

The Minneapolis-based utility will reportedly buy more diesel pumps and portable generators that could be quickly deployed at its Monticello and Prairie Island plants if all backup electricity went out, as it did at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi plant during a March 2011 tsunami.

Nuclear reactors need to be kept cool because continued production of fission energy could cause them and their contents to get very hot, thus damaging the nuclear fuel and the reactor cores. The diesel pumps that Xcel Energy is deploying are able to hose river water into the reactors to keep them cool, in case of a power outage.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Committee approved the measures last week.

However, critics, including National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) Director Christopher Paine, are skeptical about the spending. Paine told the Star Tribune that such moves are just public relations stunts to give the illusion that the industry is taking the Japan disaster seriously. NRDC is a nonprofit environmental group.

Meanwhile, Xcel Energy Chief Nuclear Officer Dennis Koehl told the Minneapolis newspaper that safety costs could climb as high as $250 million if the utility is required to purchase nuclear-qualified equipment and take other costly steps, such as building earthquake-proof off-site buildings to store and protect the equipment.

To read more about how the U.S. nuclear industry is reacting to the Japan tsunami disaster, read the full Star Tribune story here.