Vermont Yankee Refuses State's Request To Test For Radioactive Tritium
01/27/12 12:04PM By John Dillon  Download MP3
(Host) Officials at Entergy Vermont Yankee have refused the state's request to test for radioactive tritium in a former drinking water well at the plant site in Vernon.
As VPR's John Dillon reports, the state wants the testing in order to learn more about where the tritium is moving.
(Dillon) The well at Yankee's construction office building tested positive for tritium last October. It's no longer used for drinking. But Vermont asked for more tests because the well extends down into the bedrock aquifer and could provide more information about the extent of the contamination. Bill Irwin is in charge of radiological health issues at the state Health Department.
(Irwin) "That well that is physically drilled into the bedrock right in the middle of the tritium contaminated plume of groundwater is a unique sampling point."
(Dillon) Yankee discovered two years ago that underground pipes at the nuclear plant were leaking radioactive materials. Plant officials have produced groundwater models showing that the tritium plume hasn't penetrated to bedrock and is flowing under ground toward the Connecticut River.
Irwin says one sample isn't enough to draw conclusions about whether Yankee is wrong, and that some tritium has instead gone down into the aquifer.
(Irwin) "What would really be appropriate would be samples on a routine basis, say weekly or monthly."
(Dillon) In a letter to Yankee last month, Public Service Commissioner Elizabeth Miller pointed out that the positive test results in the office building well appear to contradict Yankee's theory of where the tritium is going.
Miller said the state has asked for additional testing several times. But Yankee has refused.
(Miller) "The bottom line is that we continue to disagree with Entergy regarding the appropriateness of testing the well and are disappointed in the recent response and we will be reviewing our options."
(Dillon) Yankee site vice president Christopher Wamser wrote the state last week that additional tests are a bad idea. Wamser said testing would require pumping significant quantities of water from the well. And that, he said, poses a danger of contaminating the bedrock aquifer.
But the state disagrees. State geologist Larry Becker says he consulted with the U-S Environmental Protection Agency and learned Yankee could take small samples of water from the well without risk.
(Becker) "We would like to get another test so we can better understand that groundwater condition in the bedrock."
(Dillon) Yankee and the state do test nearby drinking water wells, including ones at a nursing home and elementary school. Those tests have turned up negative.
For VPR News, I'm John Dillon in Montpelier.