Yankee Discovers Tritium In Second Well
01/19/10 5:51PM By John Dillon  Download MP3
(Host) Entergy Vermont Yankee has discovered radioactive tritium in a second monitoring well near the Vernon reactor.
Yankee says the finding will help engineers pinpoint the source of the contaminated water that appears to be moving toward the Connecticut River.
VPR's John Dillon reports:
(Dillon) The second well is located about 500 feet north of the well where tritium was first discovered almost two weeks ago.
Tritium is an isotope of hydrogen. It's found in water that's been exposed to the nuclear reaction process. And it's an indication that pipes at Vermont Yankee are leaking into the ground.
Yankee spokesman Rob Williams says engineers are still looking for the source of the radioactive water.
(Williams) "The experience at other plants is that there is a plume that can be tracked by these monitoring wells. So the goal of the wells is not just monitoring, but to identify the source and correct it."
(Dillon) Williams said the second well showed levels of tritium at about 9,500 picocuries. Levels in the first well have risen to 22,000 picocuries per liter. That's above the federal safe drinking water level of 20,000 picocuries. But Williams said these wells are used strictly to track the movement of groundwater.
(Williams) "These are not drinking water wells and the movement is toward the river, and not toward any other wells on the site or off-site."
(Dillon) The discovery of tritium in a second well prompted swift reaction at the Statehouse. Lawmakers may vote this year on whether to extend Yankee's operating license for another 20 years. But Democrat Tony Klein, who chairs the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, said he's worried about the condition of the 40-year-old plant.
(Klein) "We're just seeing the tip of the iceberg with this. It is an old plant, it is an old system. It is leaking. And now it is leaking in a horrific manner. And there is no way that anybody should or could sugarcoat this to the public."
(Dillon) Last week, Entergy Vermont Yankee admitted that it did have underground pipes after repeatedly telling the state that it had none. Public Service Commissioner David O'Brien said everything plant officials say from now on will be closely scrutinized. He said the first thing Entergy needs to do is find the leak and fix it.
(O'Brien) "As much as we view the plant in a general sense as an asset to the state, it's not an asset to the state if there's any sort of health risk associated with it. We need to know those answers. And, quite frankly, the onus is on Entergy to provide those answers. And obviously we're going to be paying that much more close attention to the answers they give us, how it's stated, and whether there's verification and backing to it based on our recent experience."
(Dillon) Meanwhile, an anti-nuclear group says the Public Service Board needs to re-open hearings on Yankee's request to operate for another 20 years. The New England Coalition says Yankee's admission that it does have underground pipes cast doubt on other testimony in the case.
For VPR News, I'm John Dillon in Montpelier.