Results from monitoring wells contaminated with tritium


VERNON – Results from monitoring wells contaminated with radioactive tritium from the Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor continued to trend upward Wednesday, the Department of Health said Wednesday.
The Vermont Health Department said Wednesday the most recent sample taken from a well that has shown the highest readings was at 2.28 million picocuries per liter of water of radioactive tritium, down from a high of 2.6 million.
Other wells showed increases, with another well near the advanced off-gas
building climbing to 937,000 picocuries per liter, and the original contaminated well was measured at 38,427 picocuries.
Meanwhile, two governors from neighboring states, New Hampshire and
Massachusetts, called on either Entergy Nuclear or the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission to conduct a new investigation or conduct more tests on the tritium and its impact on the Connecticut River.
New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch wrote the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission asking that the federal agency “thoroughly investigate the safety and management of the plant” before extending its license, which expires in 2012.
And Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick asked the NRC to increase testing for
potential radioactive leaks at both Vermont Yankee and its sister plant, the
Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth, Mass. Both plants are owned by Energy Nuclear.
Neil Sheehan, spokesman for the NRC, said he hadn’t received copies of the
governors’ letters and declined comment.
Lynch, a Democrat, said he had “deep concerns” about the plant, and he noted that Entergy Nuclear officials had told Vermont regulators there were no underground pipes carrying radioactive materials.
“However, in the search for the source of contamination, we learned that, in
fact, a leak of underground piping containing tritiated water could be
involved,” Lynch wrote to Chairman Gregory Jaczko.
“These revelations lead me to question the credibility of Entergy and its
ability to safely manage the plant. They also lead me to conclude that the NRC must undertake an additional and thorough investigation into the Vermont Yankee plant,” he wrote.
Vermont’s congressional delegation has already written to Jaczko and met with him in private, seeking assurances that the NRC would be “the cop on the beat” to get to the bottom of not just the leak, but the misinformation by Entergy officials.
And Vermont Gov. James Douglas, a longtime supporter of the continued operation of Vermont Yankee and its corporate parent, Entergy Nuclear, has since asked for a “time out” on any legislative vote on Yankee’s future while the company answers a myriad of questions and investigations.
Entergy Nuclear spokesman Robert Williams said Entergy’s team investigating the source of the tritium included experts in hydrology, chemistry, environmental monitoring and nuclear plant engineering.
“We also have the benefit of expertise from other nuclear plants that have
conducted successful investigations to find a tritium source,” he said.
He said the NRC, along with the Vermont Department of Health, was overseeing Entergy’s investigation, and the NRC was the proper agency for the governors to petition.
The New England Coalition on Tuesday added its voice to those seeking the
shutdown of Vermont Yankee until the source of the leak is found.
In a formal petition filed with the NRC, the coalition said the new monitoring
wells at Vermont Yankee showed that contamination was increasing and spreading.
The anti-nuclear group also is seeking enforcement action against Entergy
Nuclear because of “increasing environmental damage.”
“Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee risks aggravating the contamination by
continuing to run the reactor at full power, while attempting over a period of
a month to triangulate the location of a presumed leak by drilling a series of
test wells in the affected area,” wrote Ray Shadis, senior technical adviser to
the Brattleboro-based coalition.
“Entergy has, in eight years of ownership, failed to learn and understand
Vermont Yankee’s design, layout and construction,” he added.
The Windham County legislative delegation is also pushing for the plant to shut down until the leak is found and stopped.
But so far Entergy Nuclear has rejected such a suggestion, saying that having
the plant operating, with all its pipes pressurized, actually helped in the
search for the leak. And the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has never shut down a reactor with a tritium leak, according to Sheehan.
Tritium, a radioactive isotope, is a known carcinogen.
Earlier this month, Sheehan said tritium leaks have occurred at 27 of the
country’s 103 commercial power reactors.


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