Tritium Inspection Program

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Exelon nuclear is launching an initiative across its 10-station nuclear fleet to assess the systems that handle radioactive tritium--a natural byproduct of a plants' operation.

"We're going to take additional actions to assess and put additional controls in and verify our equipment that manages tritium is at the very highest performance standard," says Byron Site Vice President Steve Kuczynski.

Several years ago, tritium--a radioactive form of water--leaked out of a line at the Braidwood generating station near Braceville Illinois. Exelon only recently disclosed the spills.

"Our plants are very similar, so we needed to take a similar look here to assure ourselves that our equipment wasn't suspect to the same issue, and if it is, we take appropriate action to minimize any inadvertent discharge," says Kuczynski.

Recent inspections at Byron--in response to the Braidwood issue--found elevated levels of tritium in standing water inside some underground vaults. Those vaults are located along a blowdown line which runs into the river.

"Some small levels of water that leaked out of discharge pipe--at this point we believe it's confined to our small vaults that surround this equipment, and it's very localized," says Kuczynski.

Byron site vice president Steve Kauzinski says there's no standard for concentration levels in the vaults but the elevated amounts are very slight. The station has already sampled off sight wells that show no sign of tritium but drilling close to the vaults will begin in the next week or two to see if there's any sign of the material in the ground.

"We discharge it in very small fractions of what you would find naturally in the environment, but we want to discharge it in the exact quantity that we are licensed to--and is our intent," says Kuczynski.

Once again, the Byron tritium concentrations are said to pose no health or safety risk to us. In fact scientists say all of us are exposed to tiny amounts of tritium all the time. That's because it's also produced naturally in the upper atmosphere.