Oyster Creek tritium leak enters second aquifer

To access this article on-line: http://www.nucpros.com/index.php?q=node/7522

December 3, 2009
DEP: Oyster Creek discharge isn’t health issue


Radioactive tritium that was in water which leaked from the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant has migrated into a second aquifer, the state Department of Environmental Protection reported.

Leaks at the plant, owned by Exelon Nuclear, were reported April 15 and Aug. 25.

DEP Deputy Commissioner Nancy Wittenberg stated in a Nov. 19 letter to Joseph Grimes, Exelon Nuclear Mid Atlantic Operations senior vice president, that tritium is migrating at the site and has entered the Cohansey aquifer — an underground, water-bearing area — which is below the Cape May aquifer.

“Based on modeling of potential routes of exposure, there appears to be no current public health impact, and no samples have exceeded New Jersey’s surface water standard,” Wittenberg wrote.

But she also said: “Exelon has been a proud to be a “zero discharge’ plant releasing no radioactivity into the (discharge) canal from any pipes. However, achieving this distinction through an unmonitored release through the aquifer seems disingenuous.

“We remain concerned that our ability to provide transparency on the migration of the tritium through the ground water and into the canal is limited by your shipping schedule,” Wittenberg added.

Oyster Creek spokesman David Benson said Thursday that the plant has been sending samples to the state and that it has extensive monitoring wells. Benson said that the Cohansey is not a drinking water aquifer and is about 60 feet deep, unlike aquifers that are used for drinking purposes, which are about 100 feet deep.

Benson also said there were no contaminants found outside of Exelon property.

“In other words, it (tritium) is seeping deeper into the groundwater,” was the reaction of Janet Tauro, a member of an environmental coalition opposing the plant’s operation. “They’ve gotten positive hits for tritium in their intake and discharge canals.”

Tritium is a weak radioactive isotope of hydrogen that is produced naturally in the upper atmosphere and found in surface water. It is produced in higher concentrations in nuclear reactors as a byproduct and typically is discharged into the environment under strict federal guidelines.

Wittenberg referred in her letter to Exelon’s continued reluctance to certify its onsite laboratory for tritium analysis.

“Our official lab is Teladyne Brown, and it has been for at least the last two years,” Benson said.

He previously stated that laboratory was certified.

“We keep giving data to the state and they post it (on the Web), and that is a good thing,” Benson said.

Wittenberg said the DEP expects Exelon to fully and promptly provide data and samples that will allow the agency to understand the concentrations and locations of the Oyster Creek contamination.

“The Barnegat Bay is critical to the economic and ecological well-being of our state. The New Jersey DEP and its partners are committed to ensuring that Barnegat Bay remains a viable and healthy multiuse ecosystem. As we have not been able to provide the transparency nor the data that we would have liked regarding the tritium releases, we suggest that Exelon provide a presentation to the Barnegat Bay National Estuary Program on the tritium leaks,” Wittenberg said.

DEP acting Commissioner Mike Mauriello held a meeting with Exelon staff Sept. 24 in which the company committed to putting all pipes which carry tritium in aboveground vaults within one year, according to the letter.

Tauro said she was concerned because this was only an oral agreement.

“There is a root cause analysis for the August 2009 leak that released over 500 times the allowable levels of tritium into the environment,” she said.

She added that information had not been made public and that her coalition is calling for the root cause analysis from August to be released just as was the root cause report for the April tritium leak.

ON THE WEB: Visit www.state.nj.us/dep/rpp/bne/bnedown/FinalOCH3.pdf for data concerning the tritium leakage.

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