Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Tritium and Plant Management

As I noted in an earlier post, there are three questions about tritium. I repeat the questions here.
1) Are the amounts that are leaking dangerous to health?
2) Does the leak show that Vermont Yankee is being managed badly or is perhaps too old to be run properly?
3) Did Vermont Yankee staff lie about pipes and tanks that could contain tritium?

To dispose of the first question rather quickly. Two of my blog posts answered this question. I repeat the answer here. The tritium levels in the test wells are not dangerous. When I compared the levels of beta exposure from tritium to levels of beta exposure from various types of food, I determined that it was more dangerous to eat a banana than to drink the well-water. The Keene Sentinel, alone among newspapers, has also figured this out. I tried to document this lack of danger well enough to convince a person who has an open mind on the subject. A person who hates nuclear will never be convinced.

For links to many opinions of tritium, I recommend this recent post at Pro-Nuclear Democrats.

The second question. What does the tritium leak show? Does it mean that Vermont Yankee is too old, or perhaps it has terrible management, and that is why it has a tritium leak?

This question is answered in a newspaper article, but one that is not at all friendly to the nuclear industry. Dave Gram of AP notes that Vermont Yankee is one of almost thirty plants that have developed tritium leaks. Most plants, including VY, have test wells to monitor for tritium release.

You can read this article one of two ways. The anti-nuke way is, of course, "OMG, they all have leaks, we have to shut them all down!" (But they would have said this anyway, with or without the tritium.)

A more reasonable approach is that tritium leakage is a problem that arose in the 90s, and monitoring has been stepped up since around 2005. Test wells have been installed at many power plants to detect any discharge of tritium. Like twenty-six other plants, Vermont Yankee's test well detected a tritiated water release. Almost all the plants that have leaks have found the problems and corrected them. (In some cases, plants have had difficulties finding the source.)

Meanwhile, Vermont Yankee is doing all the right things. VY has been drilling more test wells, inspecting buildings and trenches, keeping in touch with the NRC and state regulators. There is nothing about this situation that shows bad management or that the plant is in terrible shape. There is nothing about these leaks that makes them particularly dangerous. This problem has occurred at other plants, been solved at other plants, and will be solved at Vermont Yankee as well.

But finally, we come to the big question. Question Three. Did Vermont Yankee staff lie to regulators about pipes and tanks that could release tritium? I will address that question in another blog post.


John said...

Meredith, thank you very much for all the information you provide on Vermont Yankee. About the Tritium, the latest stories (http://keenesentinel.com/articles/2010/02/03/news/state/free/id_388718.txt) indicate a level of "70,500 picocuries per liter". Over the EPA level, but still sound like I'm ok as I'm just "eating some more bananas"...

Any thoughts on the new amounts found? Still nothing to write home about.


Meredith Angwin said...

Hi John.

Yes. I think we may be up to half a banana here. We were at about one-twentieth of a banana before.

I just posted again, quoting you this time!

I'm busy on a third post, but oddly, there are other things in my life....