Testing finds elevated tritium at Peach Bottom

York Daily Record By BRENT BURKEY


July 10, 2009

Environmental monitoring at Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station has turned up levels of a radioactive form of hydrogen six times what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says is acceptable.

But Peach Bottom maintains there is no public health threat or health threat to employees at the plant.

The amount of radiation someone would receive if they drank two liters of the water found with the highest level of tritium every day for a year would be equivalent to what someone would receive during six cross-country airplane trips, according to data provided by the plant.

Spokeswoman Bernadette Lauer said Friday workers are performing further tests and attempting to locate the source of the tritium, which forms in the nuclear fission process at the heart of the plant's operations.

The tests turned up levels of tritium in water toward the middle of facility grounds that were up to 123,000 picocuries. The EPA-endorsed acceptable level is around 20,000 picocuries per liter, according to the plant.

Peach Bottom monitors 22 wells on site and also performs geoprobing of other areas to take samples. The tritium was found during geoprobing July 6 near the Peach Bottom Unit 3 turbine building, the plant said.

Tritium is a form of hydrogen formed naturally high in the atmosphere, when cosmic rays smash into gases -- or in the nuclear power producing process, as atoms are smashed apart during fission, Lauer said.

The smashing releasing heat that produces electricity and  also releases neutrons, atomic particles that can then join themselves to other atoms, like hydrogen.

Tritium can form when water molecules absorb neutrons.