Enough tritium for almost a million liters at 8,000,000 pCi/L

Sometime between June 24, 2015 and January 21, 2016, a building remodeling project in Steamboat Springs, CO resulted in the loss of 7.5 curies of tritium. A reasonable guess is that the container holding the tritium was tossed into a construction debris dumpster and carted off to a local landfill.

The incident was reported to the NRC by the state of Colorado via email. The building owners have conducted an inspection of their building and reported they could not find the container. The report to the NRC included a corrective action letter (CAL). Though including more details, the CAL is summarized as follows in the NRC Current Event Notifications for February 8, 2016.

The property management company is reviewing all properties to verify if a Tritium exit signs are still in use and providing the current tenants of regulatory requirements to correct and prevent any future displacement or loss of exit signs containing Tritium.

The NRC’s response to this loss of “less than Cat 3” level of radioactive material was to accept the report and file it in the appropriate location for event notifications.

Aside: From NRC event report: “Sources that are “Less than IAEA Category 3 sources,” are either sources that are very unlikely to cause permanent injury to individuals or contain a very small amount of radioactive material that would not cause any permanent injury. Some of these sources, such as moisture density gauges or thickness gauges that are Category 4, the amount of unshielded radioactive material, if not safely managed or securely protected, could possibly – although it is unlikely – temporarily injure someone who handled it or were otherwise in contact with it, or who were close to it for a period of many weeks.” End Aside.

If the exit sign reported lost in Steamboat Springs was broken and the tritium was dissolved into water, it would contaminate 940,000 liters of water to the “alarming” level of 8,000,000 pCi/liter that has Governor Cuomo in a tizzy about the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant.

So far, I have been unable to find out how much water from the monitoring wells was contaminated to that “alarming” level, but that headline grabbing number — frequently reported as a 65,000% increase over the normal levels found in the wells — was the highest level measured. All of the other reported measurements were far lower.

Early reports indicate that the source of the elevated tritium levels found in three out of approximately 40 monitoring wells was tritiated water from an overflowing sump whose pump failed to start due to a mechanical or electrical problem. The pump was repaired promptly, but a certain amount of water containing tritium was spilled onto the ground.

I’m confident that Entergy either has already reported the total amount of water that could have been spilled along with its tritium concentration or that the company will be making that estimate and report in a reasonably short period of time.

I’ll bet that the total tritium release is substantially less than the lost exit sign in Steamboat Springs and that the proper reaction to the event would be to simply file the report and accept the company’s plan to try to avoid spilling tritiated water in the future.

Aside: I’m well aware of the perfectionist attitudes associated with nuclear energy and radioactivity. The idea is that ANY leakage is unacceptable and that trying to avoid it isn’t good enough. My crude response is that farting in a crowded elevator is unacceptable as well, but it happens without much overreaction. End Aside.

I’ll make an even safer bet that there will be a whole lot more wailing, gnashing of teeth, and accusations of dishonesty or incompetence before this already overblown event is over.

It’s almost a 100% certainty that groups like the UCS will self-righteously proclaim that nuclear power plants are not allowed to leak ANY tritium through unmonitored pathways like overflowing sumps. I’m pretty sure that some activists have already made statements to the effect that this violation of the license requirement of zero leakage should result in an immediate closure of the facility.

My advice to anyone who applies for a reactor operating license in the future is to stubbornly refuse to promise perfection. Good enough is good enough.

Before allowing carefully created and stoked panic to rule the day, I hope New Yorkers take the time to wonder why their elected leader is so worried about a release of a “less than Cat 3” level of radioactive material. I’d like them to consider the incredible cost that closing the plant — even temporarily — would impose, especially when the replacement power would most likely be provided by burning about 300 billion cubic feet of fracked methane every day.

Bill Sacks – Radon abatement contractor giving poor advice in syndicated column

By Bill Sacks This is in response to Rosie Romero’s article in the January 27 issue of the GV News (p. B8), What you need to know about radon. It is wrong, just plain wrong. In the low concentrations encountered in homes, radon is not a cause of lung cancer, let alone “the second leading […]

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Nova’s “Uranium – Twisting the Dragon’s Tail”

On July 29, 2015, a week before the August 6 commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, PBS (Public Broadcast System in the US) aired a documentary titled Uranium – Twisting the Dragon’s Tail. Unlike many efforts on similar topics, this one is worth watching. More importantly, it is worth recommending […]

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Romance of Radium – How did our relationship with radioactive material sour?

Radium glow finale

Note – This post was initially published on February 23, 2013. After attending the ANS President’s Special Session about the way we should communicate about radiation, I thought it would be worth repeating. Sometimes, we need to look outside of our immediate time and place to find “best practices” that we should emulate. Hitting road […]

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Atomic Show #239 – Sarah Laskow and the LNT model

In March 2015, Foreign Policy magazine published an article by Sarah Laskow titled The Mushroom Cloud and The X-Ray Machine. The article described the controversy over the radiation protection model known as the linear, no-threshold dose response. Ms. Laskow conducted some admirable literature research and talked with a number of well-known people. The ones that […]

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Ethics of international radiation protection system

The U. S. National Council on Radiation Protection (NCRP) held its annual meeting in Bethesda, MD on March 16 and 17. On the second day of the meeting, Jacques Lochard, Vice Chair of the International Commission on Radiation Protection (ICRP), gave a talk titled The Ethics of Radiation Protection. The slides from that talk are […]

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Tritium – aka radioactive hydrogen – from reactors is not a threat to human health

Fukushima Tank Farm

Tritium, also known as radioactive hydrogen, is an isotope that releases an 18 Kev beta particle. The isotopic half life is about 12 years. Among other possible production mechanisms, it is produced in low quantities and concentrations in any reactor where water is exposed to a neutron flux. The production rate is higher in heavy […]

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Presentations from NAS BEIR VIII Planning Meeting Posted

On November 17, 2014, I attended a meeting at the National Academy of Sciences building in Washington organized to determine if there is a need to convene an eighth committee on the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation (BEIR VIII). The presentations given during that meeting have been published on line at Planning Towards the BEIR […]

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Is Chernobyl still dangerous or was 60 Minutes pushing propaganda?

On November 23, 2014, 60 minutes, the venerable CBS News Sunday evening program that has been on the air since its launch in 1968, aired a segment titled Chernobyl: The Catastrophe That Never Ended. The show is full of fascinating contrasts between what the cameras show to the audience and what the narrator tells the […]

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Shaping public perceptions of radiation risk

Note: The below is part of a longer work in progress. Comments and corrections are greatly appreciated. On Monday, November 17, the US House of Representatives passed H.R. 5544, the Low Dose Radiation Research Act, which called for the National Academies to “conduct a study assessing the current status and development of a long-term strategy […]

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World Nuclear Association discussion on radiation protection

I just received a link to a fascinating podcast from the World Nuclear Association about the risks associated with attempting to protect the public from low doses of radiation. It was posted almost a month ago on October 14, 2014. I apologize for initially missing this important recording and failing to bring it to your […]

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Atomic Show #224 – Dr. John Boice NCRP

From front page of June 13, 1956 New York Times. Right column headline.

On November 11, 2014, I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. John Boice, the President of the National Council on Radiation Protection. Dr. Boice has had a long and distinguished career in radiation protection and is currently leading a multi-decade effort known as the Million Worker Study to investigate the evidence that has been […]

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