VERNON — When discussing the possible disposal of radioactive water from Vermont Yankee into the Connecticut river, the question of "how clean is clean?" was brought up.
At Thursday night's Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel meeting, it was announced that Entergy has asked the state to explore the possibility of releasing thousands of gallons of tritium tainted water into the river. The problem of groundwater seeping into the lower level of the plant's turbine building has been ongoing since Vermont Yankee's closure in 2014, but now the current flow is up to 900 gallons of intrusion water per day, according to Vermont Yankee Government Affairs Manager Joe Lynch. In February, the groundwater intrusion water was stored in swimming pools and was then moved to bladders until shipped off to facilities in South Carolina, Tennessee and Idaho. The question now is whether or not some of this could be released into the Connecticut River.
"The proposal is to essentially discharge the intrusion water to the storm water system and we've asked for testing of radio nuclides or RCRA metals, pesticides, herbicides, semi volatile organics and PCBs and we would evaluate that," said George Desch, deputy commissioner of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation. "Extensively, the argument is that it is clean water, it's groundwater that is intruding into the system and we've asked for the analyticals to demonstrate that."
So far, Entergy has spent about $800,000 and has shipped 183,000 gallons out of state for treatment and disposal. NDCAP Chairwoman Kate O'Connor asked if, for all these months, there was "no need" to ship the intrusion water to the other facilities if it could be discharged to the storm water. Desch said the intent is to avoid shipping the water off site.
Jack Boyle, Vermont Yankee's new decommissioning director, said there are systems set up today that would physically allow for such an operation, but they have not begun because the company needs to complete "internal reviews" and work with ANR and the Department of Health before moving forward.
State Rep. David Deen, D-Westminster, said he is "very" interested in reviewing the analytical work that shows what the water contains and would ask for a "full public review" of any Vermont Yankee discharge plan. Deen, a VNDCAP member, is chairman of the House Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee and also works for the Connecticut River Watershed Council,
Dr. William Irwin, the Vermont Health Department's radiological and toxicological sciences chief, clarified that intrusion water may have been storm water at one point but when it went through the building structures, it possibly became altered in that process and would therefore no longer be storm water. Irwin requested that Desch evaluate the water that would be storm water before it enters the building. Irwin notes he is particularly interested in the chromium and if it is coming from the structures because of the intrusion or if it is coming from the storm water that travels through the soil.
David Andrews followed up with Desch's comments about the discharge permit and testing of components in the water.
"'How clean is clean?' I guess is the big question here," Andrews said. "Are you talking levels to the EPA safe drinking water limits, no detectable activity, and what analytical methods are going to be used here?"
Desch said it is a "work in progress," and internally he has tasked the storm water program and watershed management division to come up with the expectations for a discharge limit. Deen suggested starting with the numerical and water quality standards.
Lynch noted that Entergy has a "comprehensive water management" plan, but with no timeline. He notes the company is sealing areas where leakage is found and its goal is to eliminate further water intrusion. Vermont Yankee spokesman Marty Cohn said they are also looking into diverting groundwater before it seeps through the turbine building, but they have not yet found a "good" place for a diversion well. Cohn mentioned another option, which is to test the intrusion water to see if it contains any non-radioactive materials and thereby include it into the storm drain permit.
While Entergy has many options of dealing with the intrusion water, Cohn said they needed to act quickly and that shipping was the most viable option in a timely and economically proficient manner.
"Economically what does not make sense, if you take water, and test it, analyze it and wait two or three weeks before results, you're not getting rid of the water, it's taking too long, " said Cohn.
Cohn mentioned a saying, "the solution to pollution is dilution," inferring that levels of tritium are "so low" already and when adding thousands of gallons of water, it's diluted, and when added to the Connecticut River it is diluted even more.
"What is the safe level for being be able to do that? And again that's the questions you heard one of the panel members say, how low, what standard are we using, how clean is clean, or is it EPA standards, and by the way all of our water is below (EPA) level," said Cohn.
Cohn said Entergy has had weekly meetings with ANR and the Board of Health to discuss what would those protocols look like and Entergy wants to minimize the shipments as soon as possible.
NDCAP will hold its next meeting September 22.
Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275.