by Todd B. Bates
Rep. Jon Runyan, R-N.J., wants to know how federal efforts will prevent a future radioactive tritium leak at the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in Lacey.
Runyan, a freshman congressman whose district includes Lacey, also wants to know how U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission efforts will improve timely reporting of leaks at Oyster Creek.
Oyster Creek discovered tritium leaks in April 2009, a week after plant owner Exelon won a 20-year license renewal, and four months later. Tritium-tainted groundwater is being pumped, diluted and then released into the Oyster Creek discharge canal.
Runyan spelled out his inquiries in a Thursday letter to NRC Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko. The letter referred to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report, released this week, on NRC oversight of underground piping systems. The report said more leaks are expected and the NRC should consider doing more to address the issue.
Runyan, in a statement, said "I am a strong supporter of nuclear energy and Oyster Creek, but we must do it safely and responsibly with respect for public health and the environment."
"It is clear from this (GAO) report that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Exelon must do a better job of monitoring the corrosion of underground pipes for leaks," he said. "Tritium is a serious threat to the drinking water of Ocean County and should not be taken lightly. The NRC needs to act and implement serious reforms to safeguard the health of the people of South Jersey."
Runyan's letter follows an Asbury Park Press investigation, published in April, that found that essentially every U.S. nuclear plant has had a radioactive leak or spill, major leaks have increased in recent years and the NRC has never fined a plant for a leak.
NRC spokesman Neil A. Sheehan said "the NRC has taken very seriously the issue of groundwater contamination at U.S. nuclear power plants, including Oyster Creek. In any case where contamination has been identified, the NRC has required the plant's owner to search for the source, halt it and determine if immediate remediation was warranted."
"At Oyster Creek, we saw no evidence that the contamination posed a risk to the public or plant employees," he said in an email.
Nationally, portions of buried piping are tested every 90 days, and tests have not uncovered one failure in decades, he said.
Testing of the thickness of excavated buried piping also has not found a problem, he said.
Oyster Creek spokeswoman Suzanne D'Ambrosio said "Exelon has addressed the issue of tritium on site with an aggressive buried pipe mitigation initiative, installed a series of water monitoring (wells) and continually tests the water from these wells."
"No detectable levels of tritium have left the Oyster Creek site or affected any drinking water," she said in an email.