Xcel Energy is planning to buy replacement power if its 1030MWe Prairie Island plant in Minnesota runs out of storage space for used fuel and has to close prematurely. The contingency plan, order by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, has started a bidding process for up to 1100MW of electricity, with proposals due by February 15, 2002.

Xcel said that it is “aggressively” pursuing options to store spent fuel away from Prairie Island, to allow its two reactors to continue operating through their licences, which expire in 2013 and 2014. Under state law, the plant will reach its fuel storage capacity in 2007.

Prairie Island, in Red Wing, stores used radioactive fuel in a pool and is authorised by the state to also use a limited number of steel and concrete dry casks. Minnesota gave the plant permission to store fuel in 17 casks, while the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved 48 casks.

Xcel said it is pursuing all the options to keep Prairie Island running, including pressing Congress to act on nuclear fuel storage and suing the Department of Energy for not taking used fuel to a central repository by the deadline set in federal law. The company has joined a group of eight large nuclear utilities to develop a 820-acre storage site in Skull Valley, Utah. Used fuel would be shipped to the site by rail.

Xcel is seeking bids to replace 550MWe of Prairie Island power if necessary from 2007, and 550MWe more in 2008. A shortlist of bidders is to be drawn up by August 2002 and final selection by November 1, 2002, with purchase agreements in place by the end of the first quarter in 2003.