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October 18, 2010

Contact: Lawrence Ragonese (609) 292-2994
Lawrence Hajna (609) 984-1795


(10/P112) TRENTON - The pumping of radioactive tritium from the aquifers beneath the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in Ocean County has been expanded to a third and larger well that was specially created to provide access to more groundwater and increase pumping capacity, DEP Commissioner Bob Martin announced today.

The goal of this continuing first phase of a cleanup of tritium that leaked from the nuclear power plant last year and into two aquifers below the Lacey Township facility is to get the tritium-contaminated water out of the ground to avoid any potential contamination of potable water supplies, said the Commissioner.

The Exelon Corp., which owns and operates the nuclear plant, started pumping last month at two small monitoring wells in the Cape May and upper Cohansey aquifers. Last week, Exelon added a third and larger well at its nuclear facility. The new well is located on the south side of the plant's discharge structure, in the area of the highest levels of ground water contamination.

"We want to get this cleaned up as quickly as possible, to get the radioactive material out of the ground to ensure the safety of the drinking water supply and to protect public health,'' said Commissioner Martin. "So far, there is no sign of radioactive material outside the boundaries of the nuclear plant or near any potable water supply. Our goal is to make sure that never occurs.''

Commissioner Martin said Exelon is fully cooperating with the State in dealing with the tritium issue and commended the company's efforts to expedite the cleanup and consider remediation alternatives. He again pledged the DEP will carefully monitor the work.

The current plan calls for pumping groundwater from the Cohansey aquifer, measuring the concentration of tritium in the water, discharging it into the Oyster Creek cooling-water intake structure, allowing the tritium to mix with the cooling water throughout the plant and then letting it flow into the discharge canal. That should bring tritium levels below detectable concentrations.

The ground water dumped into the intake structure will be monitored daily for tritium and gamma radiation. Exelon will continue to monitor the water in the discharge canal to ensure that tritium is below measurable limits. An assessment of the success of the cleanup effort is expected next month.

Water quality samples have been taken during the initial pumping period but the results are not available yet. Preliminary results from groundwater monitoring wells so far indicate tritium has not reached the clay bottom of the lower portion of the Cohansey aquifer and has not been detected in any of the wells in the deeper Kirkwood aquifer. All results of sampling will be shared with the public, Commissioner Martin pledged.

In May, Commissioner Martin announced a State investigation into the 2009 leak of radioactive tritium into the aquifers below Oyster Creek. The DEP issued a Spill Act directive to Exelon, requiring the plant owner to cooperate with the DEP's investigation and take action to prevent the radioactive substance from ever reaching the region's potable water supplies.

In June, Exelon documented levels of tritium in monitoring wells located in the Cohansey aquifer that exceeded 1 million picocuries per liter (pCi/L), compared with an EPA health-based standard of 20,000 pCi/L. Those levels have since declined markedly, according to information provided by Exelon.

Tritium is a mildly radioactive isotope of the element hydrogen that occurs both naturally and as a by-product of nuclear power plant operations, according to the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Tritium leaks are not uncommon at nuclear power plants nationwide.

Exelon had taken some steps prior to the DEP's previous directive, including drilling additional monitoring wells to identify the extent of contamination. The company also committed to move all pipes containing radioactively contaminated water either above ground or into concrete vaults to avoid similar leaks by the end of 2010. Those upgrades are on track to be completed before the end of the year.

Previous DEP press releases on tritium release at Oyster Creek:



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Last Updated: October 20, 2010