NRC: All OK Year After Nuke Plant Leak

Wednesday, January 12, 2011 @ 05:01 PM gHale

Almost one year after discovering a leak of tritiated water at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) released its report on how the plant handled the situation.

On Feb. 25, plant employees identified and stopped the leak in an underground pipe tunnel that contained leaking components for the advanced off-gas system, according to the report.

Ground water extraction began March 25 and terminated on Nov. 8, but after a strong recommendation from Gov. Peter Shumlin, it resumed Dec. 30. To date, officials picked up 10 percent, or 300,000 gallons, of the plume.

“There has been no impact to public health and safety due to the ground water contamination event,” according to NRC inspectors.

The NRC cited Vermont Yankee for failing to adhere to the nuclear industry’s Groundwater Protection Initiative, said NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan.

The NRC cited a finding of minor significance for the plant failing to comply with its previous commitments, Sheehan added.

“Our expectation is that plant owners will ensure there are no radiological dose consequences from groundwater contamination that exceed allowable limits for workers or the public,” Sheehan said. “Entergy has effectively evaluated the impacts of the contamination and it does not pose a danger to either plant workers or the public.”

Entergy, which owns and operates the plant, applied to the NRC to extend the operating license of the plant for another 20 years from 2012 to 2032.

“We continue to undertake the work to receive the approvals necessary to operate the plant past March (2012),” said Entergy spokesman Mike Burns.

The NRC evaluates abnormal releases of tritium-contaminated water from nuclear power plants, particularly those that result in groundwater contamination. The NRC determined these releases either do not leave the power plant property or involve such low levels of tritium they do not pose a threat to public health and safety. Nonetheless, the NRC continues to review these incidents to ensure nuclear power plant operators take appropriate action.

The NRC has revised its inspections of nuclear power plants to evaluate licensees’ programs to inspect, assess and repair equipment and structures that could potentially leak. The NRC also placed additional emphasis on evaluating the licensees’ abilities to analyze additional discharge pathways, such as groundwater, as a result of a spill or leak. The agency’s inspectors, who work full-time at operating U.S. nuclear power plants, regularly monitor all these activities and any deficiencies can trigger more intensive NRC oversight of a plant.

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