Skip to Content

Under Control: Relax, Our Nuclear Spill isn't an 'EPPI'

But it gets worse. Mercury reporter Brandt discovered that one reason Exelon was able to claim initially that the spill of reactor water into the river was no big deal, and to avoid publicly announcing it, was that it was a “permitted discharge.” Even the NRC report on the incident, when it was finally posted three weeks late, said that the spill had merely been waste water that had “overflowed during a scheduled and permitted radiological release.”

The idea that the Limerick nuclear generating plant is “routinely discharging” nuclear waste into the Schuylkill River and that this is permitted by the NRC, and that by extension this is being done by all the nuclear generating plants across the nation, will no doubt come as a big surprise to most Americans, including those who live downstream and downwind of these plants (because it turns out that there are also permitted regular releases of radioactive gas by these other facilities). But that’s the truth.

As Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the NRC’s Southeast Pennsylvania Regional Office, explains, “Periodically, to clean their cooling tower water pipes, the operator will have a ‘blow-down’ where they pump a lot of clean water through the system to push out collected sediment. When they do that, whey are allowed to add some reactor water to it. This is an acceptable method, well within federal safety levels” for radio isotopes. Sheehan explained that while the concentration of Tritium and other radioactive elements in the 15,000-gallon reactor waste-water tank would have exceeded federal safety levels for release into the environment, by first diluting it with all the water being used for the cooling tower “blowdown” process, and then dumping the resulting water into the large river, it would all be diluted to below federal safety levels.

“It’s nothing we would try to disguise,” said Sheehan.

Maybe, but then why was this dumping process being done by Exelon at the peculiar time of 3 a.m., and why was Exelon so anxious to avoid having to report it?

Lewis Cuthbert, a retired schools superintendent who lives with his wife Donna in the shadow of the Limerick cooling towers, has been a critic of the plant and its owners for 15 years. He says, “I don’t believe the NRC or Exelon have ever before said that the plant ‘routinely’ releases nuclear waste into the environment.”

Cuthbert suggests such releases might help explain why the incidence of childhood cancers around the vicinity of the Limerick plant are "92% higher than normal" according to research he and Donna Cuthbert have done.



story | by Dr. Radut