Contaminated Water Leaks at SC Nuke

Thursday, October 24, 2013 @ 06:10 PM gHale

Over 100 gallons of water with traces of tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, leaked during maintenance of the second nuclear unit at the Catawba Nuclear Station in Lake Wyle, SC, officials said.

There is the potential for the tritium to reach groundwater, said Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) officials. The concentration of tritium is less than one half the standard the Environmental Protection Agency sets for tritium in drinking water.

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The NRC classified the leak as a “non emergency event.”

A Duke Energy spokeswoman said there were “no public health risks” as a result of the incident at the Lake Wylie nuclear plant.

The spill happened during routine maintenance on the second unit on Saturday evening, according to an NRC report. Water containing tritium was pumping from the main condenser to a site collection pump. The water in the pond overflowed.

All of the contaminated water ended up contained to the Catawba site and was not in close proximity to any drinking water wells, Duke Energy officials said. The location of the spill was about one-tenth of a mile into the station’s property.

It is the second leak of tritium at the plant this year. In May, there was a leak in a fiberglass discharge pipe that resulted in a spill of more than 100 gallons of water. The NRC said that leak was also a “non emergency event.”

Tritium is byproduct of the atomic fission process at the plant. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, drinking water that has tritium can increase the risk of developing cancer. Because tritium emits very low-energy radiation and leaves the body relatively quickly, it is one of the least dangerous forms of ionizing radiation.

A Duke Energy spokeswoman said the accident was an equipment failure, not an operator error.

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