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

Coincidentally or not, the Philadelphia Water Department announced that on April 4, traces of the radioisotope Iodine 131, a short-lived alpha-emitter produced as a fission byproduct in nuclear reactors, had been found in the city’s water supply. Though the Queen Lane Reservoir where the I-131 contamination was found draws its water from the nearby Schuylkill River, no mention was made of the Limerick Generating Station as a possible source of the contamination. Instead, the two possible sources suggested were the Fukushima accident in Japan, and medical facilities in the region that use I-131 for medical tests (though in the later instance, such materials would end up in the sewer system, not the water system!). At the time of the finding, the PWD would not even have known that Limerick had had a spill in the Schuylkill only days earlier, much less that the nuke plant has been routinely releasing reactor wastewater into the river for years.

Meanwhile, Exelon is working hard to play down the issue of its dumping of contaminated reactor water into the heavily populated Philadelphia area’s waterways and air. “Limerick Generating Station’s procedures and guidelines allow for water releases to be performed routinely within strict state and federal environmental guidelines and oversight,” said Limerick Plant spokeswoman Dana Melia. “During a release, mildly radioactive water is pre-mixed with hundreds of thousands of gallons of non-radioactive water from Limerick’s cooling towers before it is pumped through a network of pipes to the Schuylkill River. Radiation and flow monitoring at the river’s edge ensure that all releases are performed in accordance with the station’s water use permit and that no releases exceed stringent radiological or environmental limits.” She added, “It is important to point out that most of the limited amount of spilled water ended up where it was originally intended to go – in the river.  The rest evaporated.” (Well, not really. Some water, and the Tritium atoms in the water molecules, may evaporate, but elements like radioactive Iodine, Cesium, Potassium, Strontium or Cobalt do not.)

Melia declined to state how often such “routine” authorized releases occur.

She claimed that Exelon regularly monitors radiation levels around the plant to assure that there are no hazardous levels of radioactivity, but there is reason to doubt that those measurements are reliable. On April 23, an article in Global Security Newswire reported that an April 19 internal audit of the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s national radiation monitoring network had found many of the EPA’s 124 monitoring stations to be either broken or in such poor maintenance that they were not working over the past year. The audit found that one in five of the monitors were broken, and that 50% of those sampled that were functioning had not had their filters changed in at least 130 days, making them ineffective. EPA policy, the auditor noted, calls for filter replacement twice a week.

story | by Dr. Radut