Nuke Water Spill Cause Sought

Wednesday, April 18, 2012 @ 02:04 PM gHale

Diverted water released during a recent routine procedure was well within the Limerick Generating Station’s permitted radiological effluent limits, but the bigger issue is the reason for the spill, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) official said.

Limerick, a nuclear power plant located in Montgomery County, PA, 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia, performed a scheduled and permitted water release march 19.

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“During a release, mildly radioactive water is pre-mixed with hundreds of thousands of gallons of non radioactive water from Limerick’s cooling towers before it is pumped through a network of pipes to the Schuylkill River,” said Dana Melia, Exelon Corp.’s communications manager at the Limerick plant.

The issue is the water took an unexpected path during the release.

“A pipe vent overflowed, causing water to flow into a designated spillway nearby,” Melia said. “A restriction in the pipe caused some of the water to back up and exit through a pipe vent.”

Most of the spilled water ended up at its target destination, the river, she said.

Although the incident involved several thousand gallons of water, the spill remained contained to a small area on plant property and quickly remediated, she said.

“Water samples taken at the site confirmed that the diverted water was well within the station’s permitted radiological effluent limits,” Melia said. “The recorded levels represented a fraction of permitted limits and therefore posed no environmental or public health risks.”

Because the release was temporary, limited to station property and posed no environmental or public health risks, the plant did not meet the criteria for an official NRC notification, she said.

“Regardless, within 24 hours, we notified the NRC, local and state officials, as well as area stakeholders as a courtesy, in keeping with our commitment to proactive community and stakeholder outreach,” Melia said. “The NRC is currently reviewing the issue and our response to see how it compares to similar issues reported at other stations and we await their decision.”

NRC Public Affairs Officer Neil Sheehan agreed the spill itself was far below federal safety levels.

The bigger concern is the reason for the spill, he said.

“It’s an issue that we’re continuing to look at,” Sheehan said. “Obviously we want to ensure that they address the problem … so this doesn’t happen again.”

The NRC sent officials to investigate the spill the same day it happened. While the search for an answer remains, findings will be included in the agency’s mid-May inspection report, he said.

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