Elevated level of tritium found in water at Oyster Creek


Workers found an elevated level of radioactive tritium in water on the site of the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in Lacey Wednesday, according to plant officials.

The tritium level - 102,000 picocuries per liter - is five times higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency limit for drinking water. A picocurie is a measure of radioactivity.
"There was no discharge ... or release of tritium on the state's soil or into the waters," said David Benson, an Oyster Creek spokesman.
"Our experts ... are working to determine how that tritium might have entered" a concrete vault at the plant, according to Benson and a plant statement.
The tritium discovery came a week after the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission renewed Oyster Creek's operating license until April 2029, following a years-long fight with opponents over the condition of a corroded steel radiation barrier at the plant and other issues.
"They've already proved how unsafe the plant is," said Jeff Tittel, director of the Sierra Club's New Jersey chapter, one of six groups in a coalition that opposed relicensing.
But Benson said the water is not used for drinking and "this is not a public or employee safety issue. We found something here and that's our environmental stewardship. We reported immediately to the state."
Tritium occurs naturally in the environment at very low levels, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Web site.
Other sources of tritium include commercial nuclear reactors and research reactors, and government weapons production plants, the Web site says. Tritium may be released as steam from these facilities or may leak into the underlying soil and ground water. But such releases are usually small and are required not to exceed federal limits.
Exposure to tritium increases the risk of developing cancer. Yet tritium emits very low energy radiation and leaves the body relatively quickly and is one of the least dangerous radionuclides, the Web site says.
A cup of the vault water would provide about the same radiological dose (from radioactive potassium-40) as five cups of orange juice, according to the Oyster Creek statement.



The water with tritium appeared to be contained in the concrete vault, the statement says.

The vault, which has a concrete floor and walls, houses electrical lines and equipment, the statement says. It's about 50 yards from the plant turbine building and plant engineers are working to determine how the tritium might have entered it.

The water was pumped into storage containers and will be processed through the plant's waste processing system, the statement says. More sampling will be done this week to verify that the tritium was contained.

"So far, there are about 15 55-gallon drums" of water to be disposed of, Benson said.

The 102,000 tritium reading was from one sample "but we will continue to analyze the other water as well," he said.

Oyster Creek has an extensive environmental monitoring program, including routine water sampling for tritium in the environment, the plant statement says. Laboratory tests of 32 on-site monitoring wells on March 11 showed no detectable levels of tritium in ground water near the plant.

Last fall, the DEP was considering enforcement action against Oyster Creek for failing to quickly report an elevated level of tritium in storm water.

Benson said then that there was no discharge or release of tritium.