Cleanup of contaminated water at New Jersey nuclear plant underway

Published 11/11 2013 10:18AM

Updated 02/17 2014 02:18PM

Oyster Creek Generating Station. Photo: Exelon

By Bill Sullivan
Green Right Now

Radioactive tritium that leaked in 2009 from the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant into two aquifers below the facility is being removed, according to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

The Exelon Corporation, owner and operator of the plant, has agreed to start pumping efforts on two monitoring wells in the Cape May and upper Cohansey aquifers, and to expand that effort to a third contaminated location by early October. The goal is to remove the tritium-tainted water to avoid any potential contamination of drinking water supplies.

“Radioactivity has not been measured beyond the boundaries of the nuclear plant or anywhere near a potable water source,” New Jersey DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said. “Our intention is to make sure that never happens.”

Tritium occurs as a by-product of nuclear power plant operations, and tritium leaks are not uncommon at nuclear power plants nationwide.

Oyster Creek, in Lacey Township, Ocean County, New Jersey, is the oldest operating nuclear power plant in the United States. The reactor first came online on December 1, 1969, and is licensed to operate until April 2029.

In May, Martin announced the launch of a state investigation into the 2009 leak of radioactive tritium into the aquifers below Oyster Creek. The DEP issued a Spill Act directive, requiring Exelon to cooperate with the DEP’s investigation and take action to prevent the radioactive substance from ever reaching the region’s drinking water supplies.

Contaminated water will be pumped into drums and transferred to a holding tank on site. Eventually, it will be diluted into the large volumes of water used daily for cooling the power plant. The dilution is expected to bring the tritium levels below detectable standards, which will be confirmed with surface water monitoring in the discharge canal, with the results to be shared with the public.

To avoid similar leaks, Exelon says it will move all pipes handling radioactive water either above ground or into concrete vaults by the end of 2010.

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