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Tritium

Tritium is radioactive hydrogen and is widely used in the manufacture of nuclear weapons. It is also found int the discharge water of nuclear reactors.

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Tuesday
Jan312012

NRC yet again downplays risks of tritium at latest incident at Byron 2, IL

NRC file photo of Byron nuclear plant; its Unit 2 cooling tower is not currently releasing steam, but its turbine hall is -- steam contaminated with radioactive tritiumAs reported by a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) media release, Exelon Nuclear's Byron Unit 2 atomic reactor near Rockford, IL, primary electrical grid power was lost and safety and cooling systems had to run from emergency backup diesel generators when smoke was seen coming from a switchyard transformer. However, when the plant's fire brigade responded, they could not find the fire. The NRC activated its incident response center in Region III headquarters in Lisle, IL to monitor the situation.

As revealed by Exelon's "Event Report," offsite firefighters were called in, Unit 1 is still at full power, and Unit 2's cool down "steam [is] leaving via atmospheric relief valves."

An initial AP report on the incident stated: "The steam contains low levels of tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen, but federal and plant officials insisted the levels were safe for workers and the public...[NRC] officials also said the release of tritium was expected...[NRC spokeswoman Viktoria] Mitlyng said officials can't yet calculate how much tritium is being released. They know the amounts are small because monitors around the plant aren't showing increased levels of radiation, she said...Tritium molecules are so microscopic that small amounts are able to pass from radioactive steam that originates in the reactor through tubing and into the water used to cool turbines and other equipment outside the reactor, Mitlyng said. The steam that was being released was coming from the turbine side...Tritium is relatively short-lived and penetrates the body weakly through the air compared to other radioactive contaminants."

But the linear no threshold theory, endorsed by the U.S. National Academies of Science for decades, holds that any exposure to radioactvity, no matter how small, still carries a health risk, and such risks are cumulative over a lifetime. It would be more honest for NRC officials to states that the tritium releases from Byron are "acceptably risky," in their judgment, but not "safe." After all, tritium is a potent radionuclide, a clinincally proven cause of cancer, mutations, and birth defects, and if inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through the skin, can integrate anywhere in the human body, right down to the DNA level.

A follow up article by AP quoted NRC spokeswoman Viktoria Mytling as assuring that the reactor would not be re-started until a root cause of the incident was determined, and the problem fixed. However, such a promise by NRC at Davis-Besse, near Toledo, was recently broken by NRC: widespread cracking in the reactor's concrete shield building, a secondary radiological containment structure, did not stop NRC from rubberstamping the reactor's re-start on December 6th, even though the root cause, extent, and fix for the cracking have still not been determined.

The most recent update from AP reports that Exelon has announced a cause for the incident: a failed electrical insulator, which fell off.

As reported by a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) media release, Exelon Nuclear's Byron Unit 2 atomic reactor near Rockford, IL, primary electrical grid power was lost and safety and cooling systems had to run from emergency backup diesel generators when smoke was seen coming from a switchyard transformer. However, when the plant's fire brigade responded, they could not find the fire. The NRC activated its incident response center in Region III headquarters in Lisle, IL to monitor the situation.

As revealed by Exelon's "Event Report," offsite firefighters were called in, Unit 1 is still at full power, and Unit 2's cool down "steam [is] leaving via atmospheric relief valves."

An initial AP report on the incident stated: "The steam contains low levels of tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen, but federal and plant officials insisted the levels were safe for workers and the public...[NRC] officials also said the release of tritium was expected...[NRC spokeswoman Viktoria] Mitlyng said officials can't yet calculate how much tritium is being released. They know the amounts are small because monitors around the plant aren't showing increased levels of radiation, she said...Tritium molecules are so microscopic that small amounts are able to pass from radioactive steam that originates in the reactor through tubing and into the water used to cool turbines and other equipment outside the reactor, Mitlyng said. The steam that was being released was coming from the turbine side...Tritium is relatively short-lived and penetrates the body weakly through the air compared to other radioactive contaminants."

But the linear no threshold theory, endorsed by the U.S. National Academies of Science for decades, holds that any exposure to radioactvity, no matter how small, still carries a health risk, and such risks are cumulative over a lifetime. It would be more honest for NRC officials to states that the tritium releases from Byron are "acceptably risky," in their judgment, but not "safe." After all, tritium is a potent radionuclide, a clinincally proven cause of cancer, mutations, and birth defects, and if inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through the skin, can integrate anywhere in the human body, right down to the DNA level.

A follow up article by AP quoted NRC spokeswoman Viktoria Mytling as assuring that the reactor would not be re-started until a root cause of the incident was determined, and the problem fixed. However, such a promise by NRC at Davis-Besse, near Toledo, was recently broken by NRC: widespread cracking in the reactor's concrete shield building, a secondary radiological containment structure, did not stop NRC from rubberstamping the reactor's re-start on December 6th, even though the root cause, extent, and fix for the cracking have still not been determined.

The most recent update from AP reports that Exelon has announced a cause for the incident: a failed electrical insulator, which fell off.

Thursday
Aug182011

Tritium leaked from Vermont Yankee detected in Connecticut River

The Associated Press has reported that tritium leaking from the Vermont Yankee atomic reactor has been detected in the Connecticut River by State of Vermont health officials. Although Vermont Yankee's tritium leaks are taking place via unmonitored and uncontrolled pathways -- a regulatory violation -- it must be remembered that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and other federal and state agencies across the country permit nuclear utilities to "routinely release" tritium (and other radioanuclides) into rivers (and lakes, and the ocean) on an ongoing basis, as documented in Beyond Nuclear's backgrounder "Routine Radioactivity Releases from Nuclear Power Plants in the United States: What Are the Dangers?" In addition, as the AP article mentions, the leakage of tritium at aging atomic reactors across the country has grown to epidemic proportions, a problem that Beyond Nuclear's Paul Gunter documented in April 2010 in his report "Leak First, Fix Later."

Monday
Jul112011

"Tritium leaks found at many nuke sites"

As part of its series of exposes on the nuclear power industry, and complicity by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Associated Press reported on June 21st that an epidemic of tritium leaks have occurred at a growing number of aging U.S. nuclear power plants. This confirms what Beyond Nuclear's Paul Gunter documented in April 2010 in his major report "Leak First, Fix Later."

Monday
Jul112011

NRC violates President Obama's commitment to open, transparent, accountable government by secretive communications with industry

As reported by the Associated Press, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regularly communicates secretively with the industry it is supposed to be regulating, in order to deny the public access to company documents. Michael Keegan of Coalition for a Nuclear-Free Great Lakes calls it a game of "hide and seek" that keeps the public in the dark. The latest revelations of such NRC-industry secrecy have been brought to light by Ray Shadis of the New England Coalition, who busted NRC on having secretive communications with Entergy Nuclear regarding tritium leaks at its controversial Vermont Yankee atomic reactor. Such NRC secrecy flies in the face of President Obama's commitment, on his very first day in office, to have an open, transparent, and accountable administration.

Saturday
Dec112010

Radioactive flooding at Fermi 2 atomic reactor

On Wednesday, Dec. 1st, the Fermi 2 nuclear power plant in Monroe, Michigan experienced radioactive floodwaters pouring through walls and ceilings and standing one to two inches deep in plant buildings. This happened when a waste water holding tank valve stuck open, causing the tank to overflow. A half dozen workers' shoes and clothes were saturated by the radioactive water. Although Detroit Edison officials were quick to say "no radiation dose" was suffered by any workers, this simply cannot be the truth, as tritium (radioactive hydrogen), almost certain to have been in the radioactive water, can pass through human skin. Thus, the workers' radiation dose was more than zero. And although NRC, as is its habit, downplayed any radiological risk to the public, the fact that at least 100 gallons of the radioactive water did reach the Monroe County sewer system and water treatment plant means that at least some radioactivity was discharged into Lake Erie. Again, the radiation release to the environment, and potential for radiation doses to members of the public, although diluted and perhaps small, is greater than zero. As Dr. Rosalie Bertell has said, "Dilution is not the solution to radioactive pollution!" She led the International Joint Commission Nuclear Task Force's research into the "radioactive inventory" of the Great Lakes, and the phenomenon of bioaccumulation or biomagnification, where the ecosystem naturally re-concentrates "dilute" artificial radioactivity up food chains, delivering significant doses to such predators as humans. The Monroe Evening News covered the incident on Dec. 3rd and Dec. 11th, as did the Toledo Blade on Dec. 4th.