Friday, March 19, 2010

Vermont Health Department on Tritium

WCAX interviewed Bill Irwin, head of the Radiological Health area of the Vermont Department of Health. The heading for this interview was: Expert: Vermont Yankee May Have Other Vulnerable Areas.
The content was:
  • We found the source of the leak
  • It has stopped leaking.
But the tone was quite negative. More could go wrong! Yes. More could always go wrong.

It reminds me of getting a test result from a yearly mammo. I get a letter that says something like: your mammogram is clear. However, there could be cancer somewhere else in your body, and some cancers are not detected by mammos, etc etc etc. In other words, a long warning that translates:

Your test is okay. But something else could go wrong. We're not making any promises.

Life is always uncertain. Still, these warnings generally mean: We are doing some serious CYA here. (CYA is shorthand for "Cover Your Donkey")

Let's take the main result instead, okay guys?

VY found this tritium leak. They fixed it. Cause for celebration!

Also, Rod Adams has an excellent post on the total amount of tritium that leaked, top to bottom, all the tritium in the famous plume of tritiated water under the plant. Spoiling the suspense of reading his post: less than half a curie of tritium leaked, total, at Vermont Yankee. In contrast, a well-operated CanDu reactor in Ontario releases 5,000 curies of tritium a year into the environment, or 14 curies per day. These releases are well within the legal limits in Canada, limits designed to expose the public to far less radiation from tritium than they receive from background.


Paulium said...

Yes, Meredith, except that the owners claimed for a long time that there were no such pipes that could be carrying cooling water underground! I'm not sure what is worse: that Entergy's leadership lied to the state or was so misinformed and incompetent that they really didn't know how their own plant operated. Yes, now that they finally acknowledge what has been found, they have fixed it. But if I had hired a plumber to do work on my house and I had to convince her or him that there was something wrong with the job they did, and they finally said, "Well, yes you are right, I guess I'll fix it", I can tell you I would find another plumber right away. Entergy needs to work a lot harder at being good at what they do instead of trying to make a quick buck.

Paul Courtney
Lebanon, NH

Meredith Angwin said...

Paul. I appreciate your comment. "Who knew what when" is impossible to figure out. Simply because with all the lawsuits flying around, people are simply not talking. I have tried.

In an earlier post, I noted that the famous "we have no such pipes" email had wrong word use and misspellings. In other words, it was not a well-reviewed document, and it should have been.

Reviewing material sent to outsiders is one of management's jobs and Entergy didn't do it. When I owned a company, EPRI audited my overhead rates every two years as a standard practice. You better believe I worked with my CPA to get ready, and he reviewed what we gave EPRI, and we could stand behind it. And that was a four-person little consulting company.

That's how management has to approach any kind of audit. Look it over, present it well, don't hide anything they asked for, don't give them extra info they didn't ask for. Not rocket science, and not done by Entergy, as far as I can tell.

However, that is not what I was blogging about in this post. If you watch the video that I link to in this post, you will find that VY found this leak and fixed it in a short time (compared to other plants that had tritium leaks). I consider that cause for celebration. It is good (leak fixed) in general. It is good (Entergy plant people work well and competently!) in particular.

And, if you don't mind me saying so, finding the leak fast is also good in saving me some tax money by closing down the docket and the hearings on "Should Entergy Close The Plant Immediately to Stop the Leak." We have a $150 million deficit in this state, and closing that docket will be a small step in the right direction.