Federal regulators say they will take additional time to examine a nuclear fuel plant outside Columbia after learning about previously unknown uranium leaks at the site.
The Westinghouse nuclear fuel rod assembly plant is seeking to renew its operating license for another 40 years. However, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) said it wants to take additional time for public input and its own review after learning several previously-undisclosed uranium leaks at the plant.
“We want to make sure the plant is operating safely and not polluting the environment and there’s no danger to community water supplies,” NRC spokesman Joey Ledford said. “At this point, we know of none.”
The NRC began closer scrutiny of Westinghouse after the company notified it in July that about 30 gallons of material — including uranium — had seeped through a hole in the factory floor. The agency believes hydrofluoric acid used in production caused the hole to form. However, Ledford said NRC inspectors learned of another similar 2011 incident which was not disclosed publicly at the time.
Ledford said an annual environmental inspection will begin at the plant September 17, with a report to be released a month later. While such inspections are done each year, the spokesman said Westinghouse’s relicensing process was opened back up in response to the environmental contamination. The public will have a chance to read and comment on the findings.
Westinghouse has said it cannot completely remove contaminated soil until it closes down the plant, which could potentially happen after its new license would expire in 2058.
Ledford said the plant is very isolated, but state Department of Health and Environmental Control employees are still monitoring wells along the property to ensure the leaked uranium does not move offsite.
“As long as there’s no migration of any contamination into the groundwater or into the deep water aquifers, there’s no hazard to the public,” he told South Carolina Radio Network.