VA Nuke has Elevated Radioactivity

Thursday, February 23, 2012 @ 05:02 PM gHale

There are elevated levels of a weak form of radioactivity in a sampling well at the North Anna nuclear power station that ended up shut down for three months because of an earthquake last August.

The radiation poses no hazard to the public, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) said.

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Dominion Virginia Power, the Richmond-based utility, learned from its laboratory contractor that water taken from an on-site groundwater sampling point contained an unusually high level of tritium — more than twice the EPA’s standard for drinking water.

“At this point, I don’t think there’s any concern on the NRC’s part that it would affect (nearby Lake Anna) or drinking water supplies,” said Roger Hannah, a spokesman for the federal regulatory agency’s Atlanta office.

Dominion is not sure where the radioactivity is leaking from, but the two reactors at the Louisa County plant are not the source, said company spokesman Rick Zuercher.

The company said it has been working to find and fix potential sources of the escaping tritium and the contaminated water is not leaking off-site.

“There is no evidence that the increased concentration of tritium we sampled was related to the earthquake” on Aug. 23, which shut down the plant for nearly three months, the company told the NRC on Tuesday. “Monitoring of the sample points both inside and outside the protected area and a post-seismic hydrogeological evaluation show this to be the case.”

Tritium is a naturally occurring radioactive form of hydrogen, but it is also a byproduct of the nuclear reactions in power plants like North Anna.

Tritium emits a weak form of radiation, the NRC said. Produced by cosmic rays colliding with air in the atmosphere, the federal agency said, tritium is in very small or trace amounts in groundwater throughout the world.

Exposure to radiation can have adverse health effects. For instance, radiation doses can increase the chance of getting cancer and causing genetic abnormalities in future generations.

“Last Friday, we received confirmation from an outside contractor that tritium at a sample point exceeded the voluntary reporting level established by the nuclear industry in 2006,” the company told the NRC on Tuesday.

“No detectible tritium was found in any of the other nine sample points within the protected area,” Dominion Virginia Power said, “and there are no sources of drinking water in this area.”

The company is collecting the contaminated water in subsurface drains and processing it on the plant site, Zuercher said.

The industry’s voluntary threshold for reporting such contamination — which Dominion adheres to — is 20,000 picocuries per liter. The sample the company took showed a radiation concentration of 53,300 picocuries per liter.

Picocurie is a term that describes how much radiation and, therefore, how much tritium, is in the water. The EPA’s maximum contaminant level for tritium in drinking water is 20,000 picocuries per liter.

In October 2010, Dominion Virginia Power reported a confirmed tritium sample of 16,500 picocuries per liter in another sampling point in the North Anna plant’s protected area.

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