The state of Vermont’s top health official said Tuesday it’s reasonable to assume a radioactive substance leaking from the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant is reaching the Connecticut River.
Dr. Wendy Davis, commissioner of the state Department of Health, told The Associated Press that the volume and direction of flow of tritium-tainted groundwater leads to the conclusion that it’s reaching the river.
Previous statements from the Health Department had indicated the water containing tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that has been linked to cancer when ingested in large amounts, was believed to be flowing toward or to the river. But they also said it was diluted by uncontaminated river water, so that lab instruments were not detecting it in samples of river water.
Davis said Tuesday that continued to be the case because of the river’s rapid, heavy flow.
“There’s no indication at the moment with respect to either the river or all the other places we’re monitoring that suggest people need to take any different actions, to do anything differently,” Davis said.
Vermont Yankee spokesman Robert Williams said plant officials agreed with Davis’ assessment that tritium is reaching the river.
The Connecticut River is a major New England waterway, forming the border between Vermont and New Hampshire for most of its northern length and flowing south through Massachusetts and Connecticut to Long Island Sound.
Davis said she had been in touch frequently with her counterparts in New Hampshire and Massachusetts to update them on conditions at Vermont Yankee since tritium was first reported in a groundwater monitoring well at the Vernon reactor Jan. 7.
She said she was also briefing her colleagues on the situation during weekly conference calls with health commissioners from all six New England states, sometimes joined by New York and New Jersey.
Davis’ comments were first described by Rep. Tony Klein, chairman of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, to the House of Representatives Democratic Caucus on Tuesday; the commissioner confirmed them to the AP later.
Meanwhile Tuesday, the Health Department and Vermont Yankee reported the highest level of radioactivity being detected in any of 14 test wells dug at Vermont Yankee was 2.4 million picocuries per liter, down from 2.52 million picocuries per liter in a reading taken from the same well a day earlier. The Environmental Protection Agency limit for tritium in drinking water is 20,000 picocuries per liter.
Also Tuesday, an environmental group asked to intervene before the state Public Service Board as it takes evidence and testimony on whether Vermont Yankee should be allowed to operate for an additional 20 years beyond the expiration of its current 40-year license in March 2012.
“Legal protection for Vermont’s groundwater is crucial, especially right now,” said Elizabeth Courtney, executive director of the Vermont Natural Resources Council. “The source of the leak at Vermont Yankee continues to elude investigators. The contamination has rapidly increased. And the underground plume appears to be spreading. This is a startling and potentially dangerous picture.”
The council noted that Vermont had passed a law in 2008 making the state’s groundwater a protected public trust. It said it should be allowed intervener status at the board based on its history of protecting Vermont’s public environmental assets.
Meanwhile, another nuclear plant announced Tuesday it was leaking tritium, adding one more to the 27 a Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman had said in late January had reported such leaks. The Oconee reactor in South Carolina, owned by Duke Energy, said two adjacent wells had shown readings of 24,400 and 35,400 picocuries per liter.
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