Exelon still looking for leak's cause
June 9, 2009
By KIM SMITH email@example.com
The Herald News
Chicago Sun-Times News Group
MORRIS - Exelon officials are still working to determine the cause of a tritium leak reported Sunday.
Bob Osgood, spokesman for the Dresden Generating Station, said they know the general area of the leak and will send a G-Scan device down their pipelines to pinpoint the source of the leak. A G-Scan uses ultrasonic waves to identify areas of erosion in pipes.
"We did find tritium in storm sewers that were all on our property," Osgood said. "We have sucked the water out of the storm sewers and into a huge water storage system where it will be processed through the plant's waste-processing system."
Tritium is a naturally occurring isotope of hydrogen that emits a very low level of radiation and is a natural part of water. But it's found in more concentrated levels in water used in nuclear reactors. Exposure to high levels of tritium increases the risk of developing cancer.
Exelon maintains the leaks posed no public or employee safety issues.
The leak was discovered when routine testing last week revealed dangerous levels of tritium in a monitoring well, storm sewers and a concrete vault at the station. The U.S. Environmental Agency has established a safe drinking-water limit of 20,000 picocuries of tritium per liter of water. The testing found levels of 3.2 million picocuries - about 160 times the EPA's safe level.
Over about the past decade, millions of gallons of tritiated water leaked out of Exelon's Braidwood Nuclear Power Plant in nearby Braceville but went unreported for years.
Numerous water problems were reported in neighboring Godley after those spills. Extensive well testing revealed low levels of tritium but high amounts of nitrates and coliform bacteria, both of which can represent a threat to humans drinking the water.
Exelon set aside $11.5 million to build a new water system for the town. The power giant also has been furnishing some residents with free bottled water distributed through Berkot's Super Foods in Braidwood since March 2006 to prevent them from drinking contaminated water.
Exelon is now required to notify local, state and federal officials of tritium spills
"We have made all the proper notifications," Osgood said.
IEPA spokeswoman Maggie Carson confirmed her agency was notified. She did not yet know if Exelon would face fines or other repercussions as a result of the leaks.
A report regarding the leak can be found on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Web site at www.nrc.gov under Current Event Notifications for June 8.
There is a fact sheet on tritium available from the U.S. EPA at www.epa.gov/radiation/radionuclides/tritium.html
Not everyone agrees with everything Exelon and the U.S. EPA is saying about tritium.
Cindy Sauer, a former Morris resident whose daughter has brain cancer, still questions the impact the leaks have had on the health of people living around nuclear power plants.
"While it is encouraging to see that the Exelon Corp. is becoming more forthright regarding the leaks, this current leak has only heightened my concerns," Sauer said. "I continue to question the cumulative and synergistic effects of these leaks dating back to the early 1990s, the presence of tritium and other radioactive (reactor) byproducts and the impact on the ground water."
Paul Gunter, an energy policy analyst and ardent critic of atomic power development for more than 30 years, said multiple releases of tritium and other radioactive gases entrained in these leaks are saturating the groundwater in the area around the Dresden plant.
"This has been going on for years," Gunter said. "The movement of groundwater is not well understood and the movement of radioactive plumes underground is going to be a problem for a long time."
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