tritium + radioactive pollution

http://www.nukefreetexas.org/downloads/exelons_history_of_leaks.pdf

 

Exelon’s History of  

Radiation Leaks and  

Hiding it from the Public 

 

 

Exelon has a history of leaking large amounts of radioactive water and not reporting it to regula- 

tory agencies or the public.  Tritium, a radioactive form of the element hydrogen, is produced in 

nuclear reactors and forms radioactive water.  Prolonged expo- 

sure to even low doses of tritium is known to cause cancers and 

birth defects.1 

 

Three of Exelon’s seven nuclear power plants in Illinois have a 

history of accidental tritium leaks – referred to as “incidents” by 

the nuclear power industry. There is irrefutable evidence that 

Exelon knew there were tritium leak “incidents” well before they 

reported them to the public.2 Exelon’s record of unaccountability 

to the public in Illinois could indicate the kind of corporate citizen 

it would be in Victoria, Texas.   

 

The three Exelon plants with known radioactive leaks in Illinois are Braidwood Generating Sta- 

tion, Dresden Generating Station, and Byron Nuclear Generating Station. Here are the facts we 

know. 

 

Braidwood 

Location: 60 miles southwest of Chicago, Illinois 

December 6, 2005 – the Nuclear Regulatory Commission 

(NRC) was informed that workers had detected tritium in a 

drinking water well at a home near the plant. 

♦  Further sampling of offsite wells showed tritium levels at 

34,000 picocuries per liter; the Environmental Protection 

Agency (EPA) allows 20,000 picocuries per liter 

 

— 1996: 250,000 gallons of tritiated water (water 

containing tritium) leaked near plant 

— 1998: 3 million gallons leaked 

— 2000: another 3 million gallons leaked  

— Dates not known: several leaks occurred, one which mi- 

grated offsite into a forest preserve 

— 2006: tritium released from a temporary storage area 

— A total of 22 leaks have been discovered3,4 

 

♦  The leaks occurred between 1996 and 2000, but were not reported to state officials 

until November 2005 (9 years after the first leak). The public was not informed until the fol- 

lowing month. 

Residents from the area filed a class action law suit against Exelon over potential health problems 

and loss in property values. 

March, 16, 2006 – 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 de- 

lay in notifying state officials.5 

 

Exelon avoided taking full 

responsibility for tritium 

leaks and bearing the entire 

cost to ensure local residents 

have clean drinking water. 

Exelon spokesman Craig 

Nesbit said, “We think this 

ought to be a partnership be- 

tween the state and federal 

governments and Exelon.”10 

April 7, 2006: As Exelon was con- 

ducting a community meeting to tell 

residents how it planned to start 

cleaning up tritium from previous 

spills, another leak occurred as 

tritiated steam that condensed, cre- 

ating a pool of 500 gallons of water.  

Resident Rich Bilby, who lives 

nearby, said, “It just boggles the 

mind.  How can it just keep hap- 

pening?”11 Exelon avoided taking full 

responsibility for tritium 

leaks and bearing the entire 

cost to ensure local residents 

have clean drinking water. 

Exelon spokesman Craig 

Nesbit said, “We think this 

ought to be a partnership be- 

tween the state and federal 

governments and Exelon.”10 

 

Dresden 

Location: Grundy County, Illinois 

Tritium leaks occurred in 2004 and 2006, reported to the 

public only after the Braidwood leaks caused Exelon to start 

testing. 

October 2004 – pipeline leak of 650,000 gallons of 

tritiated water was found in three off-site private wells; 

tests revealed that groundwater tritium levels were over 500 times the federal limit.  

February 12, 2006 – second leak discovered; follow-up tests found tritium levels at 25 times 

higher than the EPA safe drinking water level.6 

 

Byron 

Location: 25 miles south of Rockport, Illinois 

February 2006 – tritium leak discovered 

Tritium levels were more than four times the federal standard in vaults along pipes that 

transport waste.7 

 

 April 12, 2006 – Violation notice issued to the plant, specifically identifying violations of state envi- 

ronmental regulations relating to impairment of resource groundwater. Exelon is also cited for dis- 

charging waste-containing contaminants in areas not allowed by its permit, as well as violating 

other operational and reporting requirements of its water discharge permit.

 

Tritium’s Health Effects  

Can be ingested in food and water, inhaled, or absorbed 

through the skin 

Has a half–life of 12.5 days, making it dangerous for 120- 

248 years 

Is taken up by plants and animals in the environment and 

increases in concentration as it goes from one organism to 

another (bioconcentrates) 

Causes tumors and cancer in the lungs and digestive tract 

Shrinks the testicles and ovaries even at quite low doses and causes birth defects, mental 

retardation, decreased brain weight, loss of reproductive abilities of offspring, and 

stunted, deformed fetuses 

After entering the body, is found in body fluids, organs and tissues, and is uniformly dis- 

tributed through all biological fluids within one to two hours9 

 

____________________________________________________________________________ 

References: 

1 Beyond Nuclear Case Study The Children of Illinois—an Unfolding Story. Available at: http://www.beyondnuclear.org/children.html [Accessed 10/8/08]. 

2 Dardick, Hal. 4/6/07. Suit says Exelon avoided water test: Chemical spilled outside plant. Chicago Tribune. 

3 Ibid. 

4 Press Release from the Attorney General’s Office of the State of Illinois. 3/16/06. Madigan, Glasgow File Suit for Radioactive Leaks at Braidwood Nuclear 

Plant. 

5 Public Citizen. Tritium Leaks at Nuclear Power Plants Contaminate Groundwater. Available at: http://www.citizen.org/cmep/energy_enviro_nuclear/ 

nuclear_power_plants/reactor_safety/articles.cfm?ID=15089 [Accessed 10/8/08]. 

6 Dardick, Hal. 2/16/06. More leaks at nuclear sites: Exelon discloses 2 additional tritium spills. Chicago Tribune. 

7 Ibid. 

8 Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. April 2006. Fact Sheet: Exelon Byron Nuclear Generation Station: On-going tritium investigation. Available at: 

http://www.epa.state.il.us/community-relations/fact-sheets/exelon-byron/exelon-byron-1.html [Accessed 10/8/08]. 

9 Folkers, Cindy. 8/99. Nuclear Information and Resource Service. Tritium: Health Consequences. Available at: http://www.nirs.org/factsheets/ 

tritiumbasicinfo.pdf [Accessed 10/8/08].  

10 Dardick, Hal. 5/1/06. Weller says Exelon’s water offer falls short. Chicago Tribune. 

11 Dardick, Hal. 4/7/06. New tritium leak at Exelon: Tainted steam escapes at Braidwood plant. Chicago Tribune. 

12 Dardick, Hal. 5/26/06. NRC hits Exelon response to leaks: Federal agency may increase inspections at Braidwood facility. Chicago Tribune.  

13 Dardick, Hal. 9/1/06. Water plan proceeds at tritium site. Chicago Tribune.

 

 

Exelon spokesman Craig Nesbit 

agreed that company officials 

should have done more and “did 

not account for the potential 

public impact.”12  

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin 

(D-Ill.) announced that 

Braidwood residents have 

identified a “cancer cluster” 

and “significant increases in 

low birth-weight babies” in 

the area.13 

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