Tritium-lased Steam Released at Byron Nuke Plant – NEIS Comments

Byron Nuclear Power Plant Steam Release Scare, Jan 30, 2012

On January 30, 2012 the Byron nuclear power plant released steam contaminated with tritium. Below are comment and information requests from NEIS:

Jan. 31, 2012 5:00 p.m.

In the wake of revelations that the Byron nuclear power plant released steam contaminated with tritium on Monday, January 30th, NEIS filed a freedom of information request (FOIA) with the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) and its Illinois Department of Nuclear Safety (IDNS) today:

We request answers to the following questions relating to the Byron Nuclear Powerplant release(s) of tritium on January 30, 2012, and any afterward (if they occur) up to Feb. 2, 2012:

  1. Were all IDNS radiation monitors in operation around the Byron station working on Jan. 30, 2012?
  2. Did any of the monitors (onsite or offsite) detect radiation release from Byron on Jan. 30-31, 2012? Please provide the radiation levels measured.
  3. If Exelon conducted releases beyond those dates, did any monitors (onsite or offsite) detect any radiation from Byron NPP from Feb. 1-2, 2012? Please provide the radiation levels measured.
  4. If any radiation levels were detected, onsite or offsite, were local units of government within the 10 mi. EPZ notified? Were county officials notified? If so, which ones?
  5. Please provide a copy of IDNS onsite inspector (Cliff Thompson) report on this incident of January 30, 2012 at Byron NPP.

NEIS was pleasantly surprised to receive a partial reply within two hours of filing the FOIA from IEMA spokesperson, Patti Thompson:

Although we don’t yet know the total amount of tritium contained in the steam released from the plant, Exelon provided maximum concentration of tritium present in the steam generator within the past few days. From this information and other data provided, we believe that the amount of tritium released was minimal and of no public health significance. Our monitoring systems are designed to detect radionuclides released from fuel damage during a nuclear power plant incident. Tritium is not a fission product and therefore our [IEMA/IDNS] systems are not designed to detect tritium. (emphasis ours) However, tritium is monitored through IEMA’s environmental monitoring program and is sampled and analyzed every quarter.

Environmental monitoring personnel from IEMA collected water and vegetation samples from several locations around the Byron station today. Those samples will be returned to our Springfield radiochemistry laboratory for analysis, and we expect those results within the next few days. We will make those results available to the public once they are available.

I hope this information is helpful. I have also attached a press release about our environmental sampling.

The IEMA press release explained the nature of the testing. Results should be available the week of February 6th. NEIS will make those available when we receive them.
NEIS’ requests for information to the federal NRC Region III office were less than fruitful:
[NRC] got your message and wanted to get back to you. At this time the plant remains safely shutdown. The NRC continues to closely follow the situation. Here is a link to the press release we issued yesterday

Here is NEIS’s reply:

Thanks for getting back to me. Hope all is well with you. The specific questions I need answers to are:

  • how much tritium was released, under what circumstances (i.e., weather conditions, etc) and
  • did the offsite monitors operated by IDNS pick up any radiation readings
  • also — are the releases continuing today? or are they finished? If continuing, for how much longer?

These are not only of interest to me, but to the press who have been calling here. One account stated that an NRC official stated that these measure would not be available until
some unspecified quarterly report. This would not be acceptable to us. We’d like to save the grief of a FOIA here.

I’d appreciate what answers to these questions you can share. Thanks in advance.

No further information has come from NRC about the tritium venting. However, the IDNS admission that their equipment is not capable of detecting tritium seems to undercut the assertions of NRC Public Affairs Officer Viktoria Mitlyng, who stated to the press on Monday:
“[NRC’s] Mitlyng said officials can’t yet calculate how much tritium was released. They know the amounts were small because monitors around the plant didn’t show increased levels of radiation, she said.” (source: AP story, 1/30/12; Chicago Tribune, 1/31/12)
If the monitors cannot detect tritium, there is no basis in fact for Ms. Mitlyng’s assertion that the releases were small,” says NEIS Director, Dave Kraft. NRC does not have a separate set of detection monitors around reactors.

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