Entergy to probe radioactive leak

Rutland Herald: Susan Smallheer - January 9, 2010

BRATTLEBORO — Tritium leaks have surfaced at more than a dozen nuclear plants across the country, including several plants owned by Entergy Nuclear, the owner of Vermont Yankee.

On Thursday, Entergy Nuclear announced that a monitoring well on the banks of the Connecticut River showed low levels of the radioactive isotope tritium, 17,000 picocuries per liter, when the reportable level is 20,000 picocuries, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Entergy Nuclear spokesman Robert Williams said a special team was assembled to investigate the contamination.

Williams said no additional tests were done on Friday on the well, which is about 36 feet deep and about 30 feet from the Connecticut River.

One of the first issues is to determine the frequency of the testing of the well and surrounding wells.

The special team will develop a plan, set priorities and use expertise from other plants, Williams said.

One of Vermont Yankee’s sister reactors in the Entergy nuclear fleet, the FitzPatrick reactor in upstate New York, disclosed it had a tritium contamination problem on Dec. 29. It reported levels of 984 picocuries per liter.

According to Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the first priority is trying to find the source of the radioactive isotope.

Vermont Yankee, like other nuclear reactors in the country, started monitoring for tritium in 2007 after other nuclear plants encountered tritium contamination outside their plants.

Williams said that one thing the special team had to decide was whether to drill other wells to locating the source of the contamination.

The contaminated well is between the reactor and the river, and despite the pollution, the state and Entergy Nuclear say the river shows no trace of the tritium.

Sheehan said three reactors in the Northeast have tritium pollution problems — Indian Point, north of New York City; Oyster Creek in southern New Jersey and Fitzpatrick, located on the shores of Lake Ontario in upstate New York.

Both Indian Point and Fitzpatrick are owned by Entergy, and along with Vermont Yankee, would be split off by Entergy into its proposed new company, Enexus.

Sheehan said the levels are relatively low at Vermont Yankee and the levels could go higher — or lower.

“Anytime you’ve got contamination in groundwater, the concern is ‘Is it indicative of a larger problem?’” he said.

In the cases of both Indian Point and Oyster Creek, contamination levels were initially low, but then quickly skyrocketed.

At Oyster Creek, the concentration was 102,000 picocuries. Other samples at a different monitoring well showed a 4.46 million picocuries per liter level this April, he said.

At Indian Point, tritium levels in groundwater have been measured to be as high as 300,000 picocuries per liter, he said.

At Oyster Creek, Exelon is making plans to move the high-risk underground piping above ground for easier access and inspection, he said.

As for the wide range of measurements at the Yankee well in the past six weeks, Sheehan said it was too soon to drawn any conclusions.

“They’ve got to clean this up,” he said.

At Indian Point and FitzPatrick, the concern is that tritium-tainted groundwater is getting into larger bodies of water — in Indian Point’s case, the Hudson River and Lake Ontario in FitzPatrick’s, Sheehan said.