Monday, May 10, 2010

Nuclear Water in South Jersey

Tritium, a radioactive chemical present in nuclear waste, has been detected in a major aquifer in southern New Jersey. The problem stems from a leak discovered last year at the Oyster Creek Generating Station:

The agency said 180,000 gallons of tritium-tainted water gushed from two leaks at the plant on April 9, 2009.

Tritium, a low-level nuclear material, was found in the groundwater of Ocean County in the Cohansey aquifer at 50 times higher concentrations than DEP safety standards for drinking water.

DEP Commissioner Bob Martin on Friday said in a statement there was no imminent public health threat. The tainted water is believed to be 2 miles from the nearest residential wells, he said.
Since tritium was detected in the aquifer, the DEP has taken over management of the cleanup under the Spill Act.
The DEP said polluting the aquifer is a violation of the law. They ordered the company to install deeper monitoring wells into the aquifer to track the pollution.

The plume is migrating about three feet per day, according to the state. At that rate it would take about 15 years for the contaminated water to reach the wells. Tritium has a relatively short half-life of 12.3 years, further reducing the potential risk to human health.

The radioactive water tested at 1 million picocuries. The federal safe-drinking-water standard is 20,000 picocuries.

Cleaning up tritium leaks is difficult. PSEG is still cleaning up a 2002 spill that measured at 15 million picocuries, the highest radiation level ever recorded in any tritium spill nationwide.
The Oyster Creek Generating Station is the oldest nuclear power plant operating in the United States.