Federal officials say they have discovered uranium contamination in some of the groundwater at a nuclear fuel plant outside Columbia.
Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Joey Ledford said levels higher than what is considered safe were found in two of the nine groundwater testing wells at the Westinghouse nuclear fuel rod plant. South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control dug the wells after learning about three leaks at the site in the past decade.
“Both of them were located just a few feet from the (plant) and about a mile to a mile-and-a-quarter from the edge of the property,” Ledford said.
The State newspaper in Columbia reported the leaks after learning about them during a public hearing on Thursday.
Westinghouse first disclosed the leaks when it sought to extend the plant’s license earlier this year. The company also notified the NRC 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 a leak in a spiking station at the plant.
The NRC issued a violation to Westinghouse in September for not properly inspecting that spiking station.
However, Ledford said NRC inspectors later learned of similar incidents in 2008 and 2011 which was not disclosed publicly at the time. The company mentioned them and potential cleanup plans in a decommissioning funding report. Westinghouse is seeking to renew its license for another 40 years.
Ledford said inspectors do not believe the uranium-contaminated water is likely to move offsite before Westinghouse can remediate them. “There’s been no migration of this contamination even very far across the site,” he said. “The groundwater patterns show there is a very, very slow movement of just a few feet every year.”
Uranium is a radioactive toxic metal which can cause organ damage if inhaled or swallowed in water. Conservation groups and neighbors in the Hopkins community are concerned about future groundwater migration, especially since uranium’s half-life is millions of years.