A leak in a discharge pipe caused some contaminated water to seep into the ground at a nuclear plant in York County, according to an event report from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The NRC says Duke Energy notified the agency that more than 100 gallons of water with traces of tritium leaked out of an underground pipe at the Catawba Nuclear Station. Tritium is a mildly-radioactive isotope of hydrogen that is not dangerous unless ingested in large amounts via food or water.
The leak has been classified as a “non-emergency event” by the NRC for now. Spokesman Roger Hannah said Duke found the contamination in the spill was 9,000 picocuries per liter (pCi/L), while the EPA drinking water standard is 20,000 pCi/L.
“This particular level is well below even the drinking water standard,” Hannah said, “And that drinking water standard is well below the NRC standard. So, we’re talking about a very low amount of tritium. But we treat any leak that involves contaminated water very seriously.”
The NRC report notes the leak has the potential to reach groundwater, but states there are no drinking water wells in the vicinity. Hannah said federal inspectors could become involved if the leak ends up being larger than currently thought.
Duke Energy has initiated actions to fix the problem. Crews at the plant are installing a temporary sump pump in the turbine building in order to isolate the discharge, according to the NRC.
“Once we found the water, we immediately took action to isolate the pipe and repair plans are in progress,” said Kelvin Henderson, Catawba site vice president. “All water is contained at the Catawba site and is not in close proximity to any drinking water wells.”
Friends of the Earth, an environmental watchdog group with offices in Columbia, said Wednesday that Duke Energy needs to clarify how large the leak. The group also said the leak will necessitate increased monitoring of local wells.
“The Nuclear Regulatory Commission must closely monitor this situation and send additional inspectors to the Catawba site to make sure that Duke is taking immediate and appropriate action,” Friends of the Earth wrote in a release, “The NRC must determine the cause of the leak, the source of the tritium in the leaking water and take action to guarantee that neither Catawba reactor is leaking radioactive material of any kind.”
Hannah said the faulty pipe was transporting water from the turbine building to a holding pond. Duke employees keep the water in the pond until the tritium decays enough to be safely discharged into the nearby Catawba River.