NRC To Lawmakers: Don’t Worry About Leaks At Yankee Plant

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(Host) Officials with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission are trying to reassure lawmakers that radiation leaks at Vermont Yankee are not a threat to the public.

The NRC says that the discovery of additional radioactive compounds in the soil was expected, and did not pose a risk.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The basic message from the NRC was: not to worry.

Darrell Roberts is a regional NRC director in the reactor safety division. He said that tritium carried in water has not moved off the plant site, and has not been detected in the nearby Connecticut River.

(Roberts) "Our inspections verified that the leaks did not pose a significant radiological hazard or an operational safety hazard associated with the operation of the nuclear power plant."

(Dillon) Yankee has confirmed that another, more potent, radioactive compound – Cesium 137 – was found underground in the soil near the site of one of the leaks.

John White is an NRC official responsible for inspecting Vermont Yankee. He said the discovery of cesium was not a surprise. And he said that the radiation levels were below safety limits.

(White) "The average concentration that has been measured by Entergy indicates that the cesium they’ve seen is on the order of about 1,000 to 2,000 picocuries per kilogram, about 10 percent of the EPA limit for unrestricted use."

(Dillon) White said that the cesium is produced during plant operations. But unlike tritium, White said the cesium does not move quickly to the ground water. He said plant technicians are trying to determine if the material came from the same broken pipe that leaked tritium.

The legislative committees also heard from officials with the Environmental Protection Agency. Chittenden Senator Virginia Lyons – who chairs the Natural Resources Committee – said she wanted EPA and the NRC to clarify their respective roles in protecting the public health.

(Lyons) "So, what I’m reassured about is that any uncertainty about who’s in charge is beginning to be discussed. And it’s being discussed because of the meetings we’ve had in this building."

(Dillon) Stephen Perkins with the Boston office of the EPA said his agency would get involved if radioactive material showed up in drinking water wells. But he said the NRC has prime responsibility for nuclear plant safety.

Perkins said that so far the tritium has not reached wells used for drinking. But Lyons said she was still concerned.

(Lyons) "It doesn’t ever make me feel better when we have an unscheduled or unpermitted release of radiation into the environment. We heard a couple of months ago that they were developing guidelines to deal with this. So to now say, ‘It’s OK, it’s a safe level,’ you know no level of radiation being released is appropriate when it’s not permitted."

(Dillon) The NRC officials said they would have a report finished by mid-May on the Yankee leaks.

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

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