New Developments Disclosed On Tritium Contamination At Vermont Yankee

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(Host) There are more developments on radioactive tritium contamination at the Vermont Yankee plant.

The plant disclosed today that another well is contaminated. And, as VPR’s John Dillon reports, Yankee also confirmed that it couldn’t test for tritium for two weeks.

(Dillon) An underground plume of water laced with tritium has been tracked by Yankee officials and government regulators since about this time last year.

The tritium was traced to leaking underground pipes that Yankee had not previously disclosed existed.

There hadn’t been any additional discoveries for months. Until last week. That’s when Yankee said it had found another well containing the radioactive isotope.

Neil Sheehan of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says there’s now a second new well with contamination.

(Sheehan) "And both of these wells are a fair distance from the pre-existing plume."

(Dillon) Sheehan says the question for regulators – and for Yankee – is whether those two wells were contaminated from the same source as last year’s leaks. Or whether there’s a new leak.

(Sheehan) "Whether there could be a conduit or a pipe underground that could have led to some of that other tritium branching off, or whether this is an entirely new source of leakage, we just don’t know that at this point. But hopefully some answers will emerge some time soon."

(Dillon) Yankee came under intense criticism for how it handled the disclosure of the leaks last year.

It agreed to pump the contaminated water from existing wells and to continue monitoring for radioactive substances in groundwater.

According to Yankee spokesman Larry Smith, it now turns out that for two weeks in December and January, the plant wasn’t able to test for tritium because of failed equipment.

(Smith) "So therefore the samples were unable to be analyzed until January 11 of 2011 when the machine was repaired. So that accounts for the delay in reporting that."

(Dillon) State officials say they were surprised the equipment wasn’t working for two weeks. Radiological health chief Bill Irwin says the state Health Department uses similar testing equipment and has ordered a backup device.

(Irwin) "I’m somewhat surprised that Entergy didn’t have a backup and I actually thought that they at one time were obtaining a backup."

(Dillon) Irwin says he’s looking forward to Yankee’s explanations for why there was such a delay.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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