Freezing consequences for Mississippi River as nuclear units down

For the first time in 25 years, both units at the Prairie Island Nuclear Energy Plant are down for repairs.

Xcel Energy spokesmen say it won’t create any direct safety issues for people living near the plant just north of Red Wing.

But locals have a big idea to protect against indirect problems they’re almost sure are coming.

Ice creeping out from the shores of the Mississippi River is a common sight in much of Minnesota this time of year. But not in the Red Wing/Hager City area.

Two units making clean energy at the Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant churn enough water to keep the river warm and free of ice all the way down to Lake City.

But for the first time since 1998, both units are down simultaneously.

"The river is going to see some ice forming that it has never seen before," said Wayne Prokosch.

(FOX 9)

Xcel spokesmen tell us one of the units was powered down last month for scheduled refueling and maintenance, which they do every other year.

They say the other unit shut down safely about a month ago because of an equipment issue between the turbine and the electric grid.

Xcel doesn’t have a precise timeline for finishing repairs, but spokesmen tell us they expect both units back online sometime in January.

Right now, the current is strong enough that the river's all water not ice, but with both units at the plant shut down, locals expect this entire river to freeze solid.

"I anticipate there will be people driving across the river just to show it could be done," Prokosch said.

He says the warmer section of the river usually stays busy with fishing boats, even in winter.

And over the last 50 years, people have become comfortable staying on the shore all year.

"Since the nuke plant has been put in there’s been multiple marinas installed on the Mississippi River in downtown Red Wing and on the back channel and Hager City, which is going to cause some havoc on the docks," Prokosch said.

But they’re not just letting the ice come to them.

"We're installing multiple bubblers up and down the ends of the docks to keep a line of water open," Prokosch said.

Agitators keep the water churning on a smaller scale, hopefully creating a barrier around boats still in the river.

Xcel spokesmen don’t like their chances.

"We do not believe installing agitators or similar actions would be effective in this situation and do not anticipate covering the cost for these actions," they said in a statement to FOX 9.

Prokosch looks forward to proving them wrong.