More Radioactive Tritium Discovered At Vermont Yankee

01/20/10 5:51PM By John Dillon
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AP File Photo/Toby Talbot
(Host) There's been yet another discovery of radioactive tritium at Vermont Yankee.

This time the tritium was found in a concrete-lined vault containing pipes near the reactor.

VPR's John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The concentrations of tritium in the were measured at 1 to 2 million picocuries per liter. That's more than 50 to 100 times the highest levels found in a groundwater well about 300 feet away.

Bill Irwin is the state Health Department's radiologicial health chief.

(Irwin) "And that's enough tritium contamination to potentially cause the groundwater tritium contamination."

(Dillon) But Irwin says the discovery does not necessarily mean Yankee has found the leak that's caused radioactive material to flow into a nearby monitoring well.

(Irwin) "It could be that that's the source. It could be that it's not. It could be that it's one of some other number of sources."

(Dillon) Tritium is an isotope of hydrogen. It's found in water that's been exposed to the nuclear reaction process. Vermont Yankee is taking part in an industry-wide program to test for the material in groundwater.

Just this week the plant announced that tritium had been found in a second monitoring well at the plant. But now that result appears to have been in error. Irwin says there was a mistake in Vermont Yankee's laboratory testing process.

All this comes as Yankee hopes for a legislative vote this year to allow it to operate for another 20 years. Legislative leaders reacted swiftly to the latest news. Senate President Peter Shumlin.

(Shumlin) "Vermonters have lost confidence in Entergy Louisiana. And we are urging the Health Department to immediately implement an independent, verifiable testing system that is conducted by the state of Vermont. And we intend to provide the funding to support that independent testing."

(Dillon) Shumlin and House Speaker Shap Smith said Yankee needs to swiftly find the leak.

(Shumlin) "What's concerning the speaker and I at this point is that it almost seems that we're not concerned about the fact that we're not finding the source. We don't' know how much water has leaked. And it just seems like we're just sort of sitting here without any answers from a company that has lost credibility."

(Dillon) Yankee also disclosed recently that the plant does have underground pipes that could leak after insisting since 2008 that it had no such pipes.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission - which is also reviewing Yankee's request to operate for another 20 years - is taking a second look at the pipe issue. Neil Sheehan is an NRC spokesman.

(Sheehan) "We will certainly be looking at whether information about buried underground piping was properly discussed with us in terms of their license renewal application."

(Dillon) The Health Department says the tritium has not been found in any wells used for drinking. And Yankee officials say they are working hard to find the source of the contamination.

For VPR News, I'm John Dillon in Montpelier.

 

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