Nuclear plants plagued by leaking pipes

Sandusky Register | Melissa Topey | July 27, 2015

Activists claim leaking pipes allow radioactive material into water

Leak First, Fix Later was first published five years ago.

That report commissioned by Beyond Nuclear, an anti-nuclear organization, found a systemic problem at U.S. nuclear reactors of disintegrating pipes buried underground leading to radioactive leaks and spills into groundwater.

Beyond Nuclear revisited the report and found U.S. nuclear reactors continue to experience leaks and spills of radioactive material into groundwater from pipes still buried underground. They found inspectors still have no mandated schedule to visible inspect pipes. Nuclear operators instead rely on probabilities of how long the pipes should last based on the material the pipes are made of and the conditions of where they are buried, the group said.

Every plant in the United States has leaking pipes, including Davis-Besse and Perry Nuclear Power plant, said Paul Gunter, lead spokesperson in nuclear reactor hazards and safety concerns for Beyond Nuclear.

Today’s groundwater is tomorrow’s drinking water.

Water is not to be put at risk because of contamination, but we often do just that, gambling with public health. Water is a vital resource for sustaining life, habitats, food and agriculture. It is also an economic driver to tourism and recreation.

“Prevention is more cost effective then repair. But more than that, the first priority should be to the public health,” Gunter said.

Depending on where a reactor site is located, there can be anywhere between two to 20 miles of buried and underground pipes. These buried pipes connect reactor systems, including the steam supply for generating electricity, the emergency control and recovery systems following abnormal reactor events and the radioactive waste treatment and storage areas known as the spent fuel pools. Anywhere in this web of piping a leak can occur.

To add further injury to the environment every nuclear plant also intentionally releases radioactive water, Gunter said.

Problem plants

Davis-Besse is one of only a dozen confirmed spent fuel pool leaks in the United States, said Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear.

“Not the short list you want to see your local nuclear power plant on,” Kamps said.

Most nuclear plants monitor groundwater contamination levels through their own system of wells. Those levels are not required to be reported to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Beyond Nuclear has seen high contamination rates in New Jersey around Hope Creek Nuclear Generating Station where readings of a carcinogenic radioactive form of hydrogen, known as tritium, was at the highest level ever recorded, Gunter said.

Tritium is very difficult, almost impossible, to filter out of water so nuclear plants are not required to, Kamps said.

It causes irreversible damage at the molecular level.

Anti-nuclear activists argue that the number of radioactive releases will increase in time as uninspected pipes continue to disintegrate and fail.

First-Energy complies with industry initiatives, said Stephanie Walton, spokesperson for First Energy.

The NRC has established reporting requirements for leaks.

The company’s underground pipe network is visually inspected whenever there is an opportunity, such as during maintenance. They also take measures to prevent pipe corrosion through a method called cathodic protection that applies voltage to the pipe.

First Energy has no plans to replace its underground pipes with above-ground systems.

Main findings include:

* The number of unintended and uncontrolled radioactive releases to groundwater and surface water is increasing.

* Nuclear power plant operators have allowed radioactive leaks to disappear into the groundwater table.

* The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has failed to mandate any corrective action programs that focus on inspection and maintenance programs aimed at protecting groundwater by preventing radioactive leaks.

* Federal regulators and the nuclear industry use predictive and probabilistic models to estimate the service life on uninspected and unmaintained pipes before leaks might be expected to occur.

* The NRC ignores its own radioactive effluent control and monitoring regulations at the risk of public health and safety.

Recommendations

* Regulatory oversight, authority and enforcement must be strengthened.

* Standardized NRC regulations should require that underground pipes and tanks be promptly replaced so that systems carrying radioactive effluent can be inspected, monitored, maintained and contained in the event of leaks.

* The nuclear industry must be held accountable for radioactive releases to air, water and soil.

* There must be more public transparency describing the source, cause and extent of radioactive releases from nuclear power plants.

* Radiation protection standards must be strengthened and applied consistently nationwide.

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