A year or so ago, there was a huge uproar about tritium that was found in groundwater on the plant site at Braidwood, one of Exelon’s nuclear facilities. The plant operator determined that the source of tritium was from a a leaking discharge pipe that normally carries non radioactive circulating water back to the Kankakee River. That same discharge pipe is also used for small, planned, allowed discharges of purified primary coolant water that contains a certain amount of tritium.
Aside: Tritium is produced in all water cooled reactors since water contains a certain amount of deuterium (hydrogen with two neutrons) and deuterium has a certain probability of absorbing an additional neutron if it is in a place full of extra neutrons. Operating nuclear reactors have lots of free neutrons in flux. Since tritium is simply an isotope of hydrogen, the only way to remove it from water is through an extremely expensive isotope separation process. End of Aside
At Braidwood, the issue was that the tritium was supposed to be discharged along with circulating return water into a large body of water in concentrations that would never harm anyone. Instead, some of that very diluted, tritium containing water leaked into the soil on the site of a nuclear power plant where there are no wells that are supplying drinking water. Here is the very technical description offered on the NRC web site in answer to a question about the potential health hazard:
Initial measurement results from onsite shallow well samples indicate concentrations of tritium at a fraction of the NRC limits for radioactive liquid effluent releases to the environment. Initial data provided by the licensee (and verified by the NRC’s independent measurements) indicates background levels of tritium in near site residence wells, with the exception of one well. That excepted well is relatively shallow (less than 30 feet), and tritium concentrations measure approximately 1500-2000 picocuries/liter. The tritium concentration present in that shallow well is approximately 10 percent of the EPA drinking water standard of 20,000 picocuries/liter. Over 40 residential wells have been tested.
The licensee is evaluating the potential dose to members of the public from the tritium in the ground water. When that evaluation is completed, the NRC will review it to determine if it is adequate. However, based on the levels of tritium detected in the groundwater to date, it does not appear that any NRC limits will be exceeded.
Okay, so do you remember the hue and cry associated with that event? Can you find examples of anti-nuclear organizations making a big deal about the discharges and using them as one of their talking points for their campaign against new nuclear plant construction? (I am sure you are all familiar with search techniques and can come up with some great examples.)
Now, back to my question in the title of this post. Have you heard about the million dollar fine that was recently levied on Constellation Energy and a sub contractor for the groundwater contamination that was caused by leaks from a fly ash disposal site? If you are interested in learning more about the issue, you can find a detailed article titled Utility fined over fly ash in the Anne Arundel section of yesterday’s Baltimore Sun. Here is a sample of the information in the story:
Last October, the county launched a 10-month investigation into the extent of the pollution in the surrounding neighborhoods. It found 23 of 83 wells tested positive for dangerous metals such as arsenic, cadmium and thallium – all components of fly ash.
Based on some searches I did this morning, the event has only been covered in Maryland news sources and a few business publications. I think the business publications are interested because there was a substantial fine levied, the company has had to spend a large sum of money in a temporary dumping arrangement and there is a substantial cost associated with sealing the dump so that they can go back to using it.
I would be extremely interested in finding out how many more times you hear about this event. Please make a comment here and include the source if possible. My postulate is that the news will blow over very quickly. I would bet that it does not get much press play initially and that it does not get much repetition at all. I expect it to disappear from the public consciousness.