Radioactive Tritium Found In New Well At Vermont Yankee

01/21/11 5:50PM By John Dillon
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AP Photo/Jason R. Henske
(Host) Another groundwater monitoring well at the Vermont Yankee plant is contaminated with radioactive tritium.

State and federal officials say the discovery may mean there's a new underground leak of radioactive materials.

VPR's John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) The Health Department says the well is some distance from where monitors have been tracking tritium since last year.

Bill Irwin is the state's radiological health chief. He says the new discovery is of concern.

(Irwin) "It is new, it is unexpected and it is in an area that's 150 to 200 feet north of the plume that we've been following for the past year."

(Dillon) Irwin says the source of the tritium is unknown. He says it's possible there could be a new leak because of the distance of this well from the site of last year's leak. He says the state wants to know if other, more dangerous, radioactive isotopes have entered the environment.

(Irwin) "If this is a new source we're very interested in trying to make sure what else may have been released."

(Dillon) The Nuclear Regulatory Commission was also notified of the discovery. Spokesman Neal Sheehan said there are six uncontaminated wells between the new one and the known radioactive plume.

So Sheehan said the recent discovery - quote - "may indicate the presence of a different source of leakage, but investigation will be needed to determine the source."

Yankee spokesman Larry Smith said it's possible there is a new leak, or that tritium from the existing plume has moved northward.

(Smith) "We really don't know. We've got a reading. We don't understand it. So we've got to go further to see exactly what it means."

(Dillon) Smith said the latest contamination doesn't pose a threat to public health. He said the new well is near the radioactive waste building and that underground pipes nearby likely carry radioactive materials.

(Smith) "There are pipes near that site. There are pipes all over the site."

(Dillon) The well is showing tritium levels at 92-hundred picocuries per liter, which is below the safety limit for drinking water. The Health Department says tritium levels have been trending upwards in the well since last December.

Radiological Health Chief Bill Irwin says that last year's leak also started out with low levels of tritium and then spiked to more than 2 million picocuries per liter.

(Irwin) "We are certainly not comfortable with this new tritium sample outside of the new original plume pathway."

(Dillon) Governor Peter Shumlin said in a statement that he's concerned about the discovery, and that he looks forward to "quick and transparent action from Vermont Yankee."

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

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