South Carolina’s public health agency says it plans to hold a public hearing on a uranium leak from a Midlands nuclear fuel plant earlier this month.
The State newspaper reports the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) hearing comes after State Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland, asked the agency to release the information it has on how the radioactive material seeped through a hole in the Westinghouse nuclear fuel factory floor. Westinghouse reported the leak on July 12 after it said repair crews discovered the problem.
Jackson said he wants information on how uranium got through the floor of the plant and if the radiation from it is a threat to the public.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) said uranium levels reached 4,000 parts per million in the soil beneath the leak, well over what is considered a safe threshold.
NRC spokesman Roger Hannah said Westinghouse is still investigating what happened, but said it appears hydrofluoric acid used at the plant somehow created a hole in the floor and the uranium seeped through into the ground itself.
He said there is not believed to be risk to the public or the plant’s roughly 1,000 employees at this point, since the leak was contained to the site and no public wells are in the vicinity. However, DHEC said it is not sure exactly how much uranium seeped into the soil before the problem was discovered. No groundwater tests have been conducted since the discovery.
Uranium is a radioactive toxic metal which can cause organ damage if inhaled or swallowed in water. Its radioactivity is low enough that it is not considered dangerous unless consumed.
Jackson said he also wants to discuss other issues at the Westinghouse plant through the years. The Westinghouse Columbia Site was briefly shut down in 2016 after a uranium buildup was discovered in one of the plant’s air scrubbers. NRC inspectors were concerned the levels could cause an explosion if the uranium molecules reacted.