Task force: NRC response to tritium leaks appropriate

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Friday, June 18, 2010 BRATTLEBORO - A report issued by a Nuclear Regulatory Commission task force concluded the NRC has responded appropriately to the radioactive contamination of groundwater and soil at the nation's nuclear power plants.

"The NRC is meeting its mission of protecting public health, safety, and the environment ..." stated the Groundwater Task Force.

The task force was made up of a number of NRC staffers, which issued its report on June 11.

It conducted several months of evaluations of the agency's past, current and planned actions regarding radioactive contamination of groundwater and soil.

The task force was established in part in response to a leak of tritiated water discovered at Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon in January.

Releases of tritiated water at a number of nuclear power plants, including Yankee, did not exceed limits set by the NRC, stated the task force, "nor have the leaks interfered with the proper functioning of the plants' safety systems."

At Yankee, the NRC has not identified a hazard to public health and safety and the staff expects any off-site radiological releases to be very small, according to the task force report.

Even if tritiated water does migrate off-site, it wrote, the doses "would be negligible with respect to normal background radiation levels."

However, wrote the task force, "considering the extraordinary level of interest and concern by stakeholders, including numerous congressional, state, and local officials, NRC concluded that increased NRC oversight of the characterization, mitigation, and remediation of the tritium contamination is warranted."

The task force developed recommendations intended to improve and strengthen the NRC's response to groundwater incidents.

The recommendations fall into four categories: Reassessing the NRC's regulatory framework to better include groundwater protection; maintaining the barriers designed to confine tritium and other licensed material; creating more reliable NRC responses, and; strengthening trust.

In response to the task force's report, the NRC established a senior management group to review its conclusions.

The management group's mission is "to decide whether it agrees with the independent task force's review and how best to act upon the conclusions and recommendations contained in the final report."

Other power plants that have had tritium leaks include Oyster Creek in New Jersey, Oconee in South Carolina, Brunswick in North Carolina, Indian Point in New York and Braidwood, Byron, Dresden in Illinois.

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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