More tritium found at VY

Wednesday January 20, 2010

BRATTLEBORO -- Vermont Yankee revealed Wednesday that last week it discovered about 150 gallons of tritiated water in a trench in its radioactive waste building.

Testing determined the water was contaminated with 2.1 million picocuries of tritium.

After Yankee pumped the water out of the rad-waste building last week, about 60 more gallons washed into the room by Tuesday. That water had a tritium level of 720,000 picocuries.

Two weeks ago, tritium was discovered in a monitoring well east of the plant and about 30 feet from the Connecticut River.

When tested in November, the tritium levels were 700 picocuries per liter. The test two weeks ago revealed the level had increased to 17,000 and a recent follow-up test showed an increase to 22,300. Further confirmatory tests have lowered that level to 19,300.

The Environmental Protection Agency's standard for groundwater is 30,000 picocuries per liter. The standard for drinking water is 20,000 picocuries.

"It is too early to determine if the rad-waste building might be the source of the groundwater contamination," said Neil Sheehan, spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. "The company will have to investigate that further."

The tritiated water in the rad-waste building was found as part of the investigation to determine where the contamination in the well is coming from, wrote Rob Williams, spokesman for Yankee, in an e-mail to the media.

"Engineers and technicians are focusing on various buried pipes, plant pipe trenches and vaults made of concrete associated with the radioactive waste processing building, the condensate storage tank and the advanced off-gas system and structures," wrote Williams.

The rad-waste pipe trench, which is located eight to 10 feet below grade level, measures 40 feet in length. It is used for the collection and processing of radioactive waste from various systems in the plant.

"Engineers and technicians have not identified signs of pipe leakage at this point but will be performing further investigation of the piping there, which is used intermittently," stated Williams.

Following Yankee's announcement of the water found in the rad-waste building, House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morristown, and Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin, D-Putney, called on the Vermont Department of Health to conduct on-site independent tests of the water at the Vernon nuclear power plant.

DOH has already been doing its own independent testing on water samples sent by Yankee to its headquarters in Burlington.

Tests on the water found in the radioactive waste building are being conducted by a contractor who is hired by and paid by Entergy Louisiana.

That's not good enough, stated Smith and Shumlin.

"Since Vermonters have lost confidence in Entergy Louisiana's credibility, (we) urge the Department of Health to immediately implement independent, verifiable testing," they stated. "This independent testing is critical to ensure Vermonters that we are getting reliable information about this crisis."

In light of recent events where Entergy officials supplied both the Legislature's Oversight Panel and the Department of Public Service with inaccurate information about the existence of underground piping, the need for independent testing is more important than ever, they stated.

Jarred Cobb, Greenpeace's Northern Vermont Field Organizer, said the leaks raise many questions that have yet to be answered.

"As more revelations about site contamination come out, decommissioning costs will rise," he said. "What we're left wondering is who will get stuck with the bill and how many times will Entergy lie to us."

Tritium is a highly radioactive isotope of hydrogen, said Cobb, and when ingested, it travels throughout the body. It is also a known carcinogen, he said.

vermont Yankee officials did have some good news to reveal on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, they announced they had found tritiated water in a second well, this one 500 feet north of the first well and 300 feet from the river. The new sample measured 9,540 picocuries per liter.

"Multiple confirmatory samples have been taken that indicate the second well does not contain tritium above minimum detectable amounts," stated Williams. "Further investigation has revealed that the measuring equipment, called a scintillation detector, used for the counts produced a false positive for samples drawn from this well."

The scintillating fluid in the detector used in the measuring process was found to contain impurities that led to positive counts that did not exist, wrote Williams. New samples taken from the second well revealed that it is "essentially free" of tritiated water, he wrote.

As part of the NRC's investigation into the contaminated wells and now the water in the rad-waste building, it is sending a health physicist to the plant next week to review the company's latest plans and actions to deal with the tritium, said Sheehan.

In addition, new monitoring wells will be drilled to determine the extent of the plume of contaminated water that has seeped into the first monitoring well.

"It is a necessarily slow and methodical process and we're keeping the state and regulators informed," wrote Williams.

Bob Audette can be reached at, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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