Radioactive leak reported at TVA nuclear plant in North Alabama

Radioactive leak reported at TVA nuclear plant in North Alabama

January 11th, 2015 by Dave Flessner in Local Regional News

The TVA Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in Athens, Ala.

The TVA Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in Athens,...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

A leak of radioactive water from a tank at the Browns Ferry Nuclear Power Plant released tritium into the environment this week, but a TVA spokesman said Saturday the leak was quickly contained and presented no public risk.

The Tennessee Valley Authority, which operates the plant near Athens, Ala., said a drain line leaked between 100 and 200 gallons of water containing tritium levels above acceptable EPA drinking water standards. The leak was fixed within three hours of when it was discovered and was largely contained within the plant area, according to TVA.

In an incident report to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, TVA said it has increased monitoring of water around the plant but has not detected any elevated tritium levels outside the plant.

"In the unlikely event any of the tritiated water enters either the intake or outflow channels, it would be significantly diluted in the 2 million gallon-per-minute flowrate (of the Tennessee River)" TVA spokesman Jim Hopson said. "Based on all of these factors, there is no danger to the public or plant workers."

But an representative of an anti-nuclear group said any radiation release is potentially dangerous.

Garry Morgan, a retired U.S. Army medical officer who has monitored radiation around Browns Ferry for Mothers Against Tennessee River Radiation, said the release was similar to one reported at Browns Ferry in April 2010. Other tritium leaks have occurred at the Sequoyah and Watts Bar plants in Tennessee.

"Any leak of a radionuclide contaminant into the environment indicates a failure of oversight and/or attention to detail, maybe both, on the part of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Tennessee Valley Authority," Morgan said Saturday.

He said health surveys by his group show that the increase in cancer mortality rates in the Tennessee River valley grew to 20 percent above the U.S. average since Browns Ferry began generating power in 1974. Morgan has sampled radiation levels around TVA nuclear plants for six years and claims the elevated cancer rate in the region "is attributable to chemical and radionuclide contamination."

But TVA officials said radiation occurs naturally in the environment and its own sampling has not shown levels above EPA standards.

Tritium is a radioactive form of hydrogen that occurs in nature and also as a byproduct of nuclear fission. It is commonly used in commercial operations for its luminescent abilities, including building "exit" signs and watch faces.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340.