Under Control: Relax, Our Nuclear Spill isn't an 'EPPI'
A little over a month ago, back on March 19, at 3:00 in the morning, the Limerick Nuclear Power Station, which runs two aging GE nuclear reactors along the Schuylkill River west of Philadelphia, had an accident. As much as 15,000 gallons of reactor water contaminated with five times the official safe limit of radioactive Tritium as well as an unknown amount of other dangerous isotopes from the reactor’s fission process blew off a manhole cover and ran out of a large pipe, flowing into a streambed and on into the river from which Philadelphia and a number of smaller towns draw their municipal water supplies.
No public announcement of this spill was made at the time, so the public in those communities had no idea that it had occurred, and water system operators had no opportunity to shut down their intakes from the river. There was no report about the spill in Philadelphia’s two daily newspapers or on local news programs.
Only weeks later, after the regional office of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was finally sent an official report by Exelon, the owner of the plant, did a public notice get posted on the NRC’s website, after which some excellent reporting on the incident was done by Evan Brandt, a reporter for a local paper called The Pottstown Mercury.
ThisCantBeHappening! contacted the NRC regional office with oversight over Limerick and was told that Exelon had only reported the incident to state authorities -- the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA). A call to the DEP elicited a response that the state agency, now in the hands of a Republican governor who has shown open distain for environmental concerns ranging from nuclear waste to regulation of natural gas fracking chemicals, that it did not feel it was necessary to issue any public report on the spill. “Exelon assured us that it was not an EPPI incident,” explained DEP regional office spokeswoman Deborah Fries.
“What’s an EPPI?” she was asked. “It’s an Event of Potential Public Interest,” Fries replied.
In other words, Exelon and the state’s DEP and PEMA officials, meeting behind closed doors, agreed that the spilling of up to 15,000 gallons of radioactive isotope-laced reactor water into a river that supplies drinking water to hundreds of thousands of people was not an event of “potential public interest,” and so they didn’t make it public, thus insuring that it would not become a matter of public interest, or even of public knowledge! The logic is impeccable, though the NRC subsequently protested that Exelon should have reported the incident to the commission, which would automatically have posted it on its website as public notice of a spill.