exelon, tritium leaks at braidwood, obama turns the other cheek


Tritium Leaks at Nuclear Power Plants Contaminate Groundwater


The nuclear industry has recently come under fire for leaking tritium – a radioactive isotope of hydrogen – into the groundwater of areas surrounding nuclear plants. Leaks have been reported at the Braidwood, Byron, and Dresden reactors in Illinois, the Palo Verde reactors in Arizona, and the Indian Point nuclear plant near New York City. Even worse, nuclear energy companies have kept the discoveries of these leaks from the public, sometimes for several years. Tritium is a byproduct of nuclear generation and can enter the body through ingestion, absorption or inhalation. Long-term exposure can increase the risk of cancer, birth defects and genetic damage. In June 2005, the most recent study from National Academies of Science (NAS) reaffirmed that there is no level of radiation exposure that is harmless or beneficial, and that even the smallest dose of ionizing radiation is capable of contributing to the development of cancer. Tritium takes about 250 years to decay to negligible levels, and is very difficult to remove from water.

Recent History of Tritium Leaks


The Braidwood Generating Station in Illinois, 60 miles southwest of Chicago and run by Exelon, has recently been plagued by a series of tritium releases.  The site has experienced eight leaks between 1996 and 2006, including one in 1998 and another in 2000. The 1998 leak resulted in the release of three million gallons of tritium-contaminated water. It was not until November 2005 that the leaks were revealed to state officials. The public was not informed until the following month. Tritium-contaminated water has since been found in at least one drinking well and beyond the site boundary in a forest preserve. Residents from the local area have filed a class action lawsuit against Exelon over potential health problems and loss in property values. On March 16, 2006, the state of Illinois filed a lawsuit against Exelon seeking $36.5 million in fines for both the company’s failure to properly maintain the underground pipeline that leaked and their delay in notifying state officials.


In February 2006, a tritium leak was discovered at the Byron Nuclear Generating Station, another Exelon plant in Illinois. The tritium levels in vaults along pipes that transport waste water were at four times the EPA standard. It is not yet clear whether these elevated tritium levels have reached the groundwater.


The Dresden Generating Station in Grundy County, Illinois is a third Exelon nuclear plant that has had recent tritium leaks. A 2004 test following the October discovery of a pipeline leak revealed groundwater tritium levels at 500 times the federal limit. A second leak was discovered on February 12, 2006, and follow-up tests found tritium levels 25 times higher than the EPA safe drinking water level.

Palo Verde

On March 2, 2006, Arizona Public Service (APS) reported to the state of Arizona that it had found water with a concentration of tritium three and a half times the EPA standard, in a maze of underground pipes at the Palo Verde site. Palo Verde discharges tritium into the air, and APS has suggested that some of it may have fallen back to the ground as rain. It is unclear if tritium has moved beyond the boundary of the plant or seeped into the underground aquifers that supply water to the local area.

Indian Point

In August 2005, high tritium levels were detected when workers dug a new foundation for a crane at the Indian Point site, which is operated by Entergy. The level in one well was thirty times the EPA standard. The source of the leak has not yet been pinpointed, although a leak in a spent fuel pool near one of the reactors is suspected. Local groups are concerned about contaminated water moving toward the Hudson river. In February 2006, strontium-90 was also detected at the site, and there was increased evidence that both radionuclides have reached the Hudson river. 

For more information on tritium, please see the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research’s (IEER) Statement on Tritium and recent Memorandum on Exelon’s explanation of the tritium leaks and groundwater contamination at Braidwood Generating Station.


Exelon describes plan to clean up Braidwood tritium leak

Friday, April 07, 2006



  • by John Garcia

April 6, 2006 (WLS) — Tritium leaks at an Exelon nuclear power plant in Braidwood have been a source of concern for the Braidwood and Godley communities. The company is reassuring residents it will clean up the millions of gallons of radioactive water that leaked from the plant.

Exelon has an elaborate plan to remove the tritium from the groundwater. They are going to lower the water table in a big pond near the plant to draw the contaminated water then pump it out. They explained that plan Thursday night to a neighborhood full of skeptics.

A drainage ditch in the Godley community runs about 50 yards from Kim Cole’s front door. The water in the ditch includes runoff from the Exelon nuclear facility, water that Exelon admits in the past they have found containing small amounts of radioactive tritium. Cole, like many in the area, is worried.

“I think ComEd is dragging is its feet. I think they want to sweep us under the carpet, because we’re the little people and they’re the big people,” said Kim Cole, Godley resident.

The company hosted a meeting Thursday night to explain their plans for removing the tritium from the ground in the area surrounding the plant.

“All we can do is continue to give people information and that’s what we’re gonna do. We’re trying to be as transparent as we possibly can with this,” said Craig Nesbit, Exelon spokesman.

Many residents remain skeptical.

ComEd and its parent company Exelon have reported leaking millions of gallons of tritium laced water into the ground on several occasions dating back the last 10 years.

Most area residents rely on wells to get their water for drinking, cooking and cleaning. Many are afraid to use that water now. ComEd is testing the wells for tritium and in the meantime providing bottled water.

For Godley resident Susan Butler, who wants to move, that is not good enough.

“I can’t give my house away right now, I can’t. I’m supposed to walk away from a $140,000 house?” Butler said.

Exelon has promised to buy any property proven to be contaminated. So far that includes just one.

Whether it’s a matter of perception or reality, residents believe the tritium is a major problem for everyone.

“This is not over, not by a long shot,” said Butler.

Governor Blagojevich plans to sign a bill requiring companies to report any unauthorized spills of radioactive material within 24 hours. The company reported one such leak earlier Thursday afternoon. They say tritium escaped from the plant in a release of steam. They claim it was a minor incident that poses no health risks.



Exelon Braidwood Nuclear Facility
Tritium Releases and Groundwater Impacts

Fact Sheet 1
February 2006

Braceville, Illinois 

While working with the Exelon Dresden nuclear power plant in the fall of 2004, where tritium was detected in some on-site wells, Illinois EPA became aware of the potential for tritium contamination in groundwater at this type of facility. At the same time, the Agency was involved in the pending renewal of the industrial discharge permit for the Braidwood facility. Comments received from the Godley Park District alerted Illinois EPA to tritium detected in a shallow sand point well at the Park District.

In the spring of 2005, Illinois EPA contacted Exelon to investigate the storm water ditch that carries water to the west side of the site as a possible tritium source to groundwater. The shallow sand point well at the Godley Park District was sampled again in April of 2005. The result was below the detection limit for tritium (200 picocuries per liter (pCi/L)). At the time, tritium in the surface water in the ditch measured about 600 pCi/L. A picocurie is one trillionth of a curie. By comparison, 20,000 pCi/L is the maximum contaminant level that is allowed in public drinking water by federal regulations. During the summer of 2005, Illinois EPA tested four private wells in Godley west of the ditch. All those results were below the detection limit for tritium.

In discussions with Exelon, Illinois EPA was made aware of a November 2000 release from Vacuum Breaker #2 (VB2) on the pipeline that carries process water east to the Kankakee River. In 2005, three monitoring wells in the area of that vacuum breaker tested clean and one other tested at 400 pCi/liter. The Agency wanted to know whether this might be the source of the tritium found in the storm water ditch. We requested and received, in the fall of 2005, a work plan from Exelon for a complete investigation to define the source of tritium in the ditch.

On November 30, 2005, Exelon informed Illinois EPA that they would be sampling private wells in the area of Vacuum Breaker #3 (VB3) on the north side of the plant, where it was disclosed that another large release occurred in 1998.

On December 16, 2005, Illinois EPA issued a violation notice to Exelon for the release at VB3 where observed contamination levels that either exceeded groundwater standards in some site monitoring wells, or threatened the use of area private wells. The Agency met with representatives from Exelon on December 20th. Exelon made a presentation of the information they had developed at that time and future investigation plans to define the extent of contamination from pipeline releases. Exelon indicated that tritium has not been introduced to the pipeline since November 23, 2005 and will not be introduced to the line until the line has been tested for leaks.

A second meeting was held between Illinois EPA and Exelon on January 23, 2006. Illinois EPA asked for information to assess the potential future threat to nearby wells through computer modeling.

On February 2, 2006, Illinois EPA received a report from Exelon as part of the compliance commitment agreement. There will be an official compliance meeting on February 17 to evaluate the results of the investigation and decide on the appropriate course of action.

Private wells sampled to date:

(In most cases, Exelon split samples with the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and levels of tritium were independently confirmed by those agencies.)

  1. 14 private wells tested in December north of the plant along Smiley Road: All were non-detects for tritium except one well that showed 1524 pCi/liter. This is about eight percent of U.S. EPA’s comparison value for a safe level in public drinking water, which is 20,000 pCi/liter.
  1. In mid-January, Exelon began contacting private well owners within 1000 feet north and south of the pipeline east to the Kankakee River to obtain access to sample their wells. To date, they have sampled 19 of 29 wells, and all results are non-detects for tritium.
  1. Ditch area on the west side of the plant – Surface water samples in March, April and May 2005 showed levels of 539, 582 and 550 pCi/liter tritium, respectively. This was at the northernmost point of the ditch near a main entrance to the plant. Exelon has sampled standing water in the ditch weekly since early December 2005 – all non-detects. In addition, the Godley Park District shallow well was tested in March 2005 and four private water wells in Godley nearest the ditch were tested in June 2005 – all non-detects.

The Illinois Department of Public Health has been provided with and has reviewed analytical results from private well tests near the Braidwood plant. They have not seen tritium levels in the well tests to date that pose a health hazard. Illinois EPA will continue to work with IDPH to evaluate any potential health impacts and keep area residents informed.

The Illinois EPA is committed to protecting the groundwater of the state as a future drinking water resource. To this end, the Agency will use available enforcement tools, as appropriate, to assure that non-compliance issues are resolved with this site.

For more information:

General questions about the site, Illinois EPA Office of Community Relations:
Kurt Neibergall
Manager, OCR
Carol Fuller
Community Relations Coordinator
Technical Questions: Media Inquiries:
Bill Buscher, Bureau of Water
Hydrogeology and Compliance Mgr.
Maggie Carson, Communications Manager
Health-related Questions:  
Joe O’Connor
Illinois Department of Public Health
West Chicago Regional Office
245 W. Roosevelt Road

Illinois EPA plans to work with the Godley Park District to establish an Information Repository for the convenience of area residents.

Exelon has more information on a web site about the tritium issue at www.BraidwoodTritium.info


Exelon settles over tritium violations
Nuclear power company reaches agreement over leaks at three stations

Staff report

A $1 million agreement between Exelon, the Illinois Attorney General and the State’s Attorneys of Will, Ogle and Grundy Counties has officially resolved the environmental consequences of radioactive tritium leaks into the groundwater beneath the Braidwood, Byron and Dresden nuclear power plants. Just about half of that is already earmarked for environmental projects in and around the areas of the affected plants.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan made the announcement late last week, stating that Exelon will pay more than $1 million to resolve three separate civil complaints that she and the State’s Attorneys filed jointly, including civil penalties totaling $628,000 and $548,000 to fund several Supplemental Environmental Projects in and around the communities where the power plants are located.

“It is imperative that Illinois’ nuclear power plants are operated in a manner that does not endanger public health or the environment,” Madigan said. “I appreciate the involvement and assistance of State’s Attorneys Glasgow, Roe and Sobol in reaching these successful settlements. Through these actions, we are working to ensure that proper clean up has occurred and to put in place protections to prevent tritium leaks in the future.”

The settlement at Braidwood Station stems from the discovery in 2006 that tritiated water had been leaking from the plant’s blowdown line for years. The blowdown line is an underground pipe that carries wastewater, including tritiated water, approximately four and one-half miles from the power plant to the Kankakee River. Health experts claim that human exposure to tritium can increase the risk of developing cancer.

According to the settlement filed March 11 in Will County Circuit Court, Exelon has complied with the terms of the May 2006 Agreed Order obtained by Madigan and Glasgow which, among other things, required Exelon to make modifications to the blowdown line to avoid future leaks, install alarms and leak detection monitors along the line and investigate and remediate tritium contamination on both its property and property outside of the Braidwood power station’s boundary. Exelon will pay a civil penalty of $608,000.

“Through this cooperative action involving my office, Attorney General Madigan and Exelon, we have taken the necessary steps to protect the citizens of Will County from future releases of contaminated water,” said State’s Attorney Jim Glasgow. “I also commend local community leaders like Joe Cosgrove from Godley whose commitment to public safety helped drive the settlement we have today. Everyone involved in this process truly understands the paramount importance of protecting the health, safety and welfare of our community.”

After the discovery of the tritium leaks at Braidwood Station, Exelon performed tests of groundwater in neighboring Godley. While those tests did not show any tritium contamination, they did uncover significant contamination in drinking wells, likely from ground runoff. To resolve the issue, Exelon donated $11 million to Godley to build its own water plant. Construction of that plant is more than half way complete.

Tritium is an isotope of hydrogen that produces what the industry deems as “weak” levels of radiation. It is produced naturally in the upper atmosphere when cosmic rays strike atmospheric gases and is produced in larger quantities as a by-product of the nuclear energy industry. When combined with oxygen, tritium has the same chemical properties as water. Tritium can be found at very low levels in nearly all water sources.

In addition to paying civil penalties, Exelon Generation will contribute $392,000 toward Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs), which are court-ordered actions designed to promote the goals of the Illinois Environmental Protection Act to restore, protect and enhance the quality of the environment. The money will be dedicated for the use of the Forest Preserve District of Will County’s proposed Braidwood Dunes & Savanna Nature Preserve Management Plan (NPMP). Protected as a nature preserve in 1981, the 325-acre parcel is preserved for the benefit of the community and is home to rare plants and sensitive animal habitats that are found nowhere else in Will County. The purpose of the NPMP is to improve water quality at the NPMP site, control invasive species, increase the amount of time the site is covered by water, monitor plant and rare species populations and conduct controlled burns at the NPMP site.

The Braidwood Station tritium leak was first reported in 2005, with news that millions of gallons of tritiated water had leaked into area groundwater near the nuclear site. The leak happened when one of the vacuum breakers on the blowdown line got stuck open, causing undiluted tritiated water to flow out of the line and eventually spread into the groundwater. Following that initial finding, the company launched the first ever company-wide comprehensive tritium environmental assessment and established robust environmental monitoring programs at its 11 nuclear plants. In June 2006, the company also began cleaning up groundwater with tritium near Braidwood Station. According to Exelon, to date, more than 90 percent of the tritiated water from the historical release at that station has been removed.

“We promised the public we’d remediate the tritium that went beyond our plant boundaries,” said Exelon’s Chief Nuclear Officer Charles Pardee. “We established a system-wide groundwater monitoring program and kept everyone informed of our progress. We’ve kept those promises and gained valuable experience that we’re using in our environmental management programs.”

Exelon hosted more than 50 public meetings and information sessions over the past three years to keep the general public and local, state and federal officials and agencies informed of Exelon’s monitoring program and clean-up efforts. The next community information night is scheduled for March 25.

Additional settlements

Also affected by the settlement were the plants at Byron and Dresden.

In a complaint filed simultaneously with the settlement, Attorney General Madigan and Ogle County State’s Attorney John B. Roe alleged that leaks of tritiated water occurred in 2006 in the wastewater blowdown line at Exelon’s Byron Nuclear Generating Station, located approximately 20 miles southwest of Rockford. The blowdown line at the Byron facility runs approximately 2.2 miles and drains into the Rock River. Similar to the resolution of the Braidwood complaint, Exelon has agreed to undertake measures to comply with the law, including implementing an aggressive inspection program and installing an alarm system and leak detection monitors along the blowdown line. Exelon will pay a civil penalty of $10,000, as well as $29,000 for three separate Ogle County projects.

In an additional complaint filed with the settlement, Madigan and Grundy County State’s Attorney Sheldon Sobol sued Exelon for water pollution and exceeding groundwater standards beginning in 2001 at its Dresden Nuclear Generating Station near Morris. An earlier tritium release occurred in 1994, when Commonwealth Edison owned and operated the facility. The tritium releases to groundwater from the Dresden facility alleged in the complaint have not traveled off of the generating station site or entered private residential wells.

As part of this settlement, Exelon will pay a civil penalty of $10,000 and pay $127,000 to the Illinois Conservation Foundation, which the Illinois Department of Natural Resources will use for a SEP to fund recreational and historical rehabilitation projects along the Illinois & Michigan Canal State Trail complex within Grundy County.

Exelon was pleased with the terms of the settlement. In a press release issued after the settlement was announced, the nuclear power provider reminded the public that the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) and Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) have gone on record stating that the tritium concentration levels were never a health or safety issue to the public:

“We’re glad that a substantial amount of the settlement will go to our local communities in support of valuable environmental projects,” said Pardee.


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