Vermont Yankee Questions Tritium Findings

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(Host) Vermont Yankee is disputing how much radioactive tritium was found on the banks of the Connecticut River near the plant.

But as VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports, some say the discovery of any tritium in the river is noteworthy.

(Sneyd) For the past year-and-a-half, Entergy Vermont Yankee and the state Health Department have been tracking a plume of water contaminated with tritium.

Various wells drilled on the plant grounds have documented the presence of the radioactive material in groundwater.

But this week was the first time it’s been confirmed in the Connecticut River, which flows along the eastern edge of the plant.

State radiological health chief Bill Irwin says the amount found in a July sample is very small.

(Irwin) "The EPA recommended limit for tritium is 20,000 picocuries per liter. The values that we’re measuring – 534 and 611 picocuries per liter – are about 30 times less than that, what might be called a safe drinking water level."

(Sneyd) And Irwin emphasizes that no drinking water is taken from the river where the tritium was found.

But Yankee says its own test of the very same sample show lower levels – 499 and 502.

Irwin says the difference is so slight that it might be attributed to slightly different testing methods.

(Irwin) "In the great scheme of things, those numbers are really all very close to each other. And we’re talking about counting literally thousands of atoms as we calculate these numbers. So we’re really looking at very low concentrations of a substance in a sample."

(Sneyd) Yankee still says there needs to be an explanation for the difference. Larry Smith is a plant spokesman.

(Smith) "We’ve proposed to the state that we send both our samples and theirs to an independent, third-party laboratory for an additional round of testing. And in addition to that, in an effort to get as much information as possible, related to this issue and to help determine if there are any next steps, we have expedited testing results from our laboratory for water samples taken over the past three weeks."

(Sneyd) For Sandra Levine of the Conservation Law Foundation, the difference between the test results is beside the point.

(Levine) "It’s significant in any amount. It’s significant because they’ve claimed that any leaks have been repaired and they haven’t. It’s significant because they claim any leaks have been cleaned up and they haven’t. It shows that Entergy continues to be an irresponsible operator of this facility."

(Sneyd) Levine’s group argues that the tritium amounts to pollution, and CLF says Yankee does not have any authority to release pollution into the Connecticut River.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

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