NPR logo Radiation Levels Spike Near Vt. Nuke Plant; Leak Source Not Yet Found


Radiation Levels Spike Near Vt. Nuke Plant; Leak Source Not Yet Found

Radiation levels in a monitoring well outside the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, Vt., have spiked — but state and federal officials seem to sharply disagree about how serious the threat to public health may be.

The local Rutland Herald reports that:

Levels of radioactive tritium mushroomed Thursday in a new monitoring well at the Vermont Yankee reactor, an indication the leak was coming from water that runs through the reactor itself, according to the Department of Health.

"These are very high concentrations," said William Irwin, radiological health chief for the Department of Health, who was at the reactor Thursday. "We're not dealing with a minor system. It's an important source that needs to be quickly found."

But a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Neil Sheehan, e-mailed the newspaper to say that the level detected "is still a very low level of tritium contamination and continues to present no public health and safety hazard and no detectable negative impact to the environment."

The Associated Press writes that the tritium level detected is "more than nine times those previously reported and more than 37 times higher than a federal safe drinking water limit. ... Officials at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, state Health Department and federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission said a newly dug monitoring well at the Vernon reactor turned up a reading of nearly 775,000 picocuries per liter. It was by far the highest reading reported yet for tritium, which has been linked to cancer when ingested in large amounts."

The Burlington Free Press' vt.Buzz blog says that state officials report that so far, thankfully:

All drinking water well tests are negative for elevated tritium. Vermont Yankee is now testing the drinking water well nearest the contaminated groundwater monitoring wells, the Construction Office Building well, every day.

It's been about a month since the leak was first discovered. Vernon is near the southeast corner of Vermont, just north of the Massachusetts state line.