Report details efforts to prevent isotope from reaching Vt. water supplies

By John Curran
Associated Press / June 23, 2010

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

Text size +

VERNON, Vt. — After pumping out 130,000 gallons of contaminated groundwater, removing 240 cubic feet of tainted soil, and spending about $10 million responding to a leak of radioactive tritium, Vermont Yankee officials said yesterday it will be at least three months before the cleanup is complete.

But they say that there is no evidence the isotope made it into drinking water supplies and that samples of water from the neighboring Connecticut River continue to show no detectable tritium levels.

In a meeting held at the plant yesterday, representatives of the troubled nuclear power plant and corporate parent Entergy Corp. released the results of an in-house analysis performed after the Jan. 7 revelation of the leak of tritium — a carcinogen that has been found at dozens of the nation’s nuclear reactors.

It blamed the leak on a design flaw in the 38-year-old plant, leftover insulation from a construction job that prevented contaminated water from being collected properly, and a separate pipe added to the plant in 1978 that created a pathway allowing the water to seep into soil.

The report by Vermont Yankee, which was to be delivered to state regulators yesterday, also pointed the finger at the plant’s own management for not fully implementing groundwater protection measures recommended by the nuclear industry, which it said might’ve prevented or identified the tritium leak quicker.

Tritium, which occurs naturally but is also a product of nuclear fission, has been linked to cancer if ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin in large amounts.

Its discovery at Vermont Yankee came as plant owners sought permission for a 20-year extension that would allow the 650-megawatt plant to continue operating past 2012, when it is scheduled to close.

Following the revelation, Vermont lawmakers — in a vote of no confidence — passed a resolution to block the plant from operating past 2012.

Vermont is the only state in the country with a law giving its legislature a say over a nuclear plant’s relicensing.

The tritium leak has not been the only recent problem.

Last month, plant officials revealed that while cleaning up tritium, they found evidence of a more potent radioactive isotope, strontium-90, in soil near where the leak occurred. Strontium-90 has been linked to cancer.

On May 29, they revealed another leak after finding and fixing it. That one, which was vapor and water containing 13 different radioactive substances, was found coming from a pipe in a hole workers dug to find the source of an earlier leak.

, as some have suggested.

William Irwin, chief of radiological health for the Vermont Health Department, said the state is satisfied with Vermont Yankee’s follow-through on its remediation plans to date.

For now, contaminated soil has been disposed of and no drinking water has been tainted, he said.

“We’re concerned that a lot of things could have been done to prevent this, and we hope that that’s not an indicator of the future,’’ he said.

Colomb said the plant and its owners would continue their push for another vote by lawmakers and permission to obtain the 20-year license extension.

Connect with

Twitter Follow us on @BostonUpdate, other Twitter accounts