Radioactive Waste Leaks At South Carolina Nuclear Plant

Radioactive waste leaks at nuclear plant (The State, July 12, 2011):

Officials say no threat posed, but federal safety team continues to investigate

Federal nuclear safety inspectors are investigating a radioactive waste leak at SCE&G’s atomic power plant in Fairfield County.

An estimated 100 gallons of liquid waste spilled at the utility’s V.C. Summer plant, apparently from a pipe that leaked, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The discovery was made late last week.

State, federal and SCE&G officials say they have found no signs the material left the SCE&G nuclear plant or posed any threat to the public, but they are continuing to investigate.

Roger Hannah, a spokesman for the NRC, said the spill appears to have been linked to a failing pipe that led to a discharge point at the facility.

“It’s something we’re looking at,’’ Hannah said. “Anytime you have a leaking pipe, it’s something you don’t want.’’

Leaking pipes at nuclear plants are under increasing scrutiny nationally in the wake of a recent Associated Press report.

The news service reported that radioactive tritium has leaked from three-quarters of U.S. commercial nuclear power sites, often into groundwater from corroded, buried piping. The number and severity of the leaks has been escalating in recent years, The Associated Press reported.

In South Carolina, tritium has been documented in groundwater at nuclear plants in Oconee and York counties at levels above the Environmental Protection Agency’s safe drinking water standard, records show.

Mary Nguyen Bright, a spokeswoman for the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, said her agency doesn’t know if tritium was released, but the department is awaiting test results. DHEC took samples of soil after learning of the spill late last week.

“At this point, there is no danger to the public and nothing significant to the environment that we found,’’ she said.

Tritium is naturally occurring but also can be released from the production of atomic power. It is not considered as toxic as plutonium, uranium or other nuclear materials, but tritium can present hazards if people ingest it in sufficient amounts over time. Because tritium moves rapidly in water, it sometimes can be a precursor of slow-moving and more dangerous atomic contamination.

Bright said initial reports show the leaked material pooled on a concrete pad at the site in rural Fairfield County, about 26 miles northwest of Columbia.

The leak was discovered during a routine inspection of a low-level waste processing system. A Nuclear Regulatory Commission report said the spill occurred in a line where processed radioactive waste is being prepared for release.

SCE&G officials said repairs are under way. SCE&G said the spill, which was identified Thursday and reported to federal regulators Friday, didn’t threaten anyone. The power company described the leak as “slightly contaminated’’ water in a low-level waste processing system.

“Initial investigations by DHEC and SCE&G found the situation to have no adverse effect to public safety, site personnel or plant equipment,’’ the company said in a statement. “SCE&G will continue to work with DHEC and the NRC on this matter.


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