Normal operations resumed Oct. 26 at Prairie Island nuclear plant following a five-week refueling and maintenance outage that included replacing the plant's main generator.

The replaced generator was original to plant when it opened more than 40 years ago, according to Xcel Energy. The refueling and maintenance work was completed by around 600 plant workers and 1,000 contractors.

“Providing reliable, carbon-free electricity to our customers is a key priority and the nuclear plants are a cornerstone of Xcel Energy’s strategy to reduce emissions,” said Scott Sharp, site vice president, in a news release Tuesday, Oct. 30. “Successfully refueling our plant and completing complex maintenance projects help deliver that value to our customers. Our employees, which include many members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, performed their tasks safely and their work positions our plant to provide round-the-clock electricity to our customers.”

A new fuel design implemented as part of the work will allow the plant's Unit 1 reactor to operate 24 months between refuelings, up from 18 months, Xcel Energy says. The change is projected to save $70 million over the next 15 years.

A third of Xcel Energy's upper Midwest energy mix comes from nuclear energy, utility executives said at an annual community breakfast earlier this month. Xcel Energy plans for its Prairie Island and Monticello nuclear plants to provide at least a quarter of its generating mix through 2030 as renewable energy replaces coal and natural gas plants. The goal is to reach 85 percent carbon-free energy generation by 2030.

Spent nuclear fuel is being stored in temporary casks outside the plant while the federal government continues a decadeslong debate on what to do with the country's radioactive waste.

Plans for a permanent repository in the Nevada desert have faced opposition from Nevada lawmakers and others. Meanwhile, interim consolidate storage facilities have been proposed for Texas and New Mexico. Prairie Island nuclear plant will be part of a tabletop exercise to explore the logistics of moving nuclear waste to a temporary storage site.