Obama, Durbin and Rep. Weller Make Bipartisan Effort to Expand Public Disclosure of All Unplanned Releases of Radioactive Substances
WASHINGTON - After a series of reports that Illinois nuclear power plants failed to disclose that radioactive substances had leaked into the groundwater, U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) today along with Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Congressman Jerry Weller (R-11th) introduced legislation that would require nuclear companies to inform state and local officials if there is an accidental or unintentional leak of a radioactive substance.
Current federal law does not require state and local officials to be notified of any accidental, unplanned, or unintentional radioactive substance releases that may occur if those releases do not immediately rise to the level of public health or safety emergency.
"Our constituents deserve to be notified immediately if potentially hazardous materials are released into the groundwater. It's just that simple," said Senator Obama. "This bipartisan, common sense legislation will ensure that in the future, no one will have to rely on the federal government or an image-conscious corporation to tell them what they need to know and when they need to know it."
Tritium is a form of radioactive water that is created by a nuclear plant's operation. The belated disclosure of a series of leaks of radioactive tritium at plants owned by Chicago-based Exelon Corporation has raised concern about the public's right to know when these leaks occur.
The state's attorney's office is investigating why Exelon waited years to disclose wastewater leaks of tritium that occurred in 1998 and 2000 at the Braidwood Generating Station in Will County. It is estimated that each leak resulted in the discharge of approximately 3 million gallons of tritium into the surrounding groundwater. Exelon has said that it found elevated levels of radioactive material in water leaked from two other plants, Dresden Generating Station in Grundy County and Byron Nuclear Generating Station near Rockford. Last week, groundwater tests in a Grundy County test well showed that tritium levels were 25 times higher than the EPA's safe water drinking level. Other wells tested had levels lower than the EPA standard, a sign that the leak may have been centralized.
The legislation, the Nuclear Release Notice Act, would require that when a radioactive leak occurs that exceeds limits set by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the Environmental Protection Agency or other federal agencies, state and local officials are notified simultaneously with NRC.
"The accidental release of hazardous material in any community needs to be made as public and obvious as a red light in traffic," said Durbin. "The current process, which doesn't require companies to notify the public at all about low-level radioactive leaks, must be changed. Requiring full public disclosure of all leaks is the only way to ensure that communities have the opportunity to assess safety risks and take immediate action to protect their residents. We must make sure that what happened in Braidwood does not repeat itself elsewhere in Illinois or the nation."
"My constituents are absolutely correct when they ask, 'Why did it take ten years for the public and local officials to be informed of tritium leaks at Braidwood, Dresden and other nuclear facilities?'" said Weller. "I think this legislation sends the message that the public's right to know these things is a bipartisan concern."
Illinois has 11 nuclear power plants - the most of any state in the country - and nuclear power provides more than half of Illinois' electricity needs. After a request from Congressman Weller, federal regulators ordered all Illinois nuclear power plants to be inspected after an emergency at one facility.