Monday, January 11, 2010

Tritium and Liars

I told myself I wouldn't use the L-word, Liar, to describe people who don't like nuclear energy. I hear it often enough from them, heaven knows. "Liar" is one of the first things said, under most circumstances.

For example, at the anti-VY walker potluck I attended, someone made an announcement that tritium (really, tritiated water) has been found by a test well near Vermont Yankee. Yankee dug those wells to look for tritium, since it has been a problem at other plants. As you can see from this newspaper article, Yankee found a very small amount of tritium. Bill Irwin is the head of the Vermont Public Health department radiological unit. A quote: "The level discovered in the well wouldn’t cause any appreciable dose if it were to be consumed, said Irwin."

The level discovered in the well is less than the EPA limit for drinking water. Vermont Yankee is getting busy looking for its source.

Now of course, at the potluck, I expected the Walkers to be jubilant about the discovery of tritium, and they were. More ammo for their side. However, what I didn't expect was the chorus of "So, they lied to us again! They lied to us about tritium. They said there couldn't be any tritium and look, they lied." The L-word was being thrown around fast and furiously.

Now, I think it is very unlikely that a company would drill test wells to detect something and simultaneously say there is no possibility that there is any of that substance for miles around. More likely, Vermont Yankee said that they felt it was very unlikely that they would find tritium. That wasn't a lie. They hadn't found any yet, for Pete's sake, in any of their wells. For decades.

Quick to accuse, do the walkers themselves tell lies? Between us, Howard Shaffer and I have been to three events of the anti-Vermont Yankee walkers.

1) A debate with a nuclear expert. The expert was actually a comic actor. This was never announced.

2) A potluck, supposedly including talks by experts about conservation in the home. No experts arrived and conservation was barely discussed.

3) A potluck with a "panel of experts" at Vermont Law School. My friend Howard was the only expert there. No other experts attended.

Okay. I'm not going to use the L-word about the walkers. But I'm thinking it.


Jason Ribeiro said...

This potluck meeting sounds like typical confirmation bias in action.

geo said...

Actually, the issue here is not that the amount of tritium in the water is dangerous. One issue that might be of concern is that the amount of tritium was increased 25-fold in six weeks. We have no idea what level it could ultimately reach.

But a much more important issue is that Entergy or Vermont Yankee representatives testified under oath that no underground tank or pipe that could cause such a leak existed. There is a financial motive for such testimony to be untrue. The potential for the soil under the plant to be contaminated increases the potential cost for decommissioning. Entergy has never put any of its own money into the decomissioning fund, and I would guess it is not inclined to do so now.

We do not know, of course, whether the representatives of VY were commiting purjury or not. They might have believed what they were saying. But I have read the testimony, and it is very clear. They gave precise details about what pipes had existed over the years. This was clearly not an accidental miscommunication. Either they were purposely telling lies, or the plant managers really do not know what is going on at their plant. In either case, it looks pretty bad.

Meredith Angwin said...

geo. Thanks for the comment.

I have not posted more about tritium because I have been waiting for more information. I do not make the assumption that Entergy engineers lied or that they were incompetent. A small tritium release will not affect the cost of clean-up very much. Trying to deny a tiny part of the decommissioning cost doesn't strike me as as a credible motivation for lying.

You have read the engineer's testimony, and I have not done so. I want to read it. Is it available on-line somewhere? Or were you at a meeting and picked up a copy at the time?

Piping diagrams for any big power plant exist and are up-to-date, unequivocally. It would have been easy to check what the engineers said against the diagrams. Since diagrams of the pipes are available to all sorts of regulatory agencies, lying under oath on this subject would have been foolish as well as illegal. That is why I am sure they did not lie.

I need more information before I do a blog posting on the tritium event. Though you disagree with me about the plant, I am pleased that you do not assume that anybody committed perjury.