July 30, 2014

Feds say spill at Seneca nuclear reactor is not danger to public

Oconee Nuclear Station (Courtesy: NRC)

Oconee Nuclear Station (Courtesy: NRC)

Federal officials say it appears a radioactive water spill at an Upstate nuclear plant does not present any danger to the public.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says Duke Energy self-reported that an underground pipe which connects two chemical ponds at the Oconee plant near Seneca began leaking on Tuesday. Duke officials said the water contained trace amounts of tritium.

Duke Energy spokeswoman B.J. Gatten said crews were transferring the water between ponds when they noticed water seeping up through the ground. She said the crews shut off the pipe and stopped the leak within an hour. She did not say how much water had leaked out, but Duke officials said it was more than 100 gallons.

NRC spokesman Roger Hannah said the tritium levels in the spill was not considered dangerous. “They began analyzing the water and determined that it had a level of tritium that would be well below the (EPA) drinking water standards,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “So there was no safety issue for workers in the area, and certainly no public safety issue involved.”

Tritium is a hydrogen isotope that occurs naturally, but is also created during the nuclear energy production process. Gatten said a sample found the water contained 3,150 picocuries per liter of tritium, while the EPA guidelines are 21,000 pCi/L or fewer.

Hannah said regulators will keep an eye on the plant and the leak’s cleanup for the next few weeks. He said it appeared Duke responded appropriately after discovering the leak.