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Groundwater Radiation Around Vermont Plant Now Above Regulatory Level

Vernon, VT, United States (AHN) - Groundwater contaminated with tritium around Vermont Yankee, the only nuclear power plant in the Green Mountain State, has risen beyond levels set by the National Regulatory Commission.

Vermont Yankee is seeking a 20-year renewal of its operating license from state officials, amid growing safety concerns. The reactor, which is owned by Entergy, informed the state Department of Health early January that a groundwater monitoring well was contaminated with tritium.
According to the NRC, tritium is a mildly radioactive type of hydrogen that is produced naturally in the environment and by the operation of nuclear power plants. Water laced with tritium is normally released from nuclear plants under controlled conditions that pose no risk to public safety.
Vermont Yankee has been testing tritium levels in groundwater around its plant. Only one monitoring well, called GZ-3, has been found to be contaminated. The well contained 24,900 picocuries per liter of tritium last Tuesday and 28,900 picocuries per liter the next day.
Picocuries is the unit used by scientists to measure radioactivity.
Both measurements are within the 30,000 picocuries per liter set by the NRC for non-drinking water. Moreover, the contamination has been found only in the monitoring well and not in drinking water wells. Drinking water is regulated by the 20,000 picocuries per liter set by the Environmental Protection Agency as well as the 25,000 picocuries per liter standard of the Vermont Department of Health.
On Sunday, however, a spokesman for Entergy told the Rutland Herald that weekend tests showed tritium in the monitoring well exceeding 32,000 picocuries per liter, and later 28,400 picocuries per liter. The company will now have to submit a written report to the NRC about the contamination since the level has surpassed the regulatory agency's standard.
According to the state Health Department, Vermont Yankee is still trying to determine the source of the tritium. Plant officials are focusing on a drain line located in a trench and surrounded by a steel-reinforced concrete.
Water samples from the area around the drain line were tested on site over the weekend, and found to be contaminated with less than the Lower Limit of Detection of 600 to 650 picocuries per liter of tritium. The excavation to reach the drain line continues, however, as does work to test a waste pipe trench that is also suspected to be a possible source of leaks.

The reactor's operating license expires in 2012. The plant began running in 1973 and currently employs about 650 people from Vermont. It previously faced opposition from

Democratic state lawmakers who refused to support relicensing unless there was a power purchase agreement with the state's utilities that would establish rates at Vermont Yankee.
The plant began investigating the tritium contamination along with the state Department of Health on Jan. 7.
Last week, Gov. Jim Douglas, who had previously made clear his support for relicensing the plant, said in a statement, "We have high expectations from the management of a nuclear power plant - and rightly so. Vermonters are understanding, but never suffer fools. We expect better, we deserve better, and, now, we demand better. The trust that's been broken can be repaired, but it must begin with swift and determined action."

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