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Feds report violations, including leaks of radioactive waste, at FitzPatrick Nuclear Plant

Photo Courtesy Entergy Corp.
Photo Courtesy Entergy Corp.
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SCRIBA, N.Y. -- An inspection report released by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission describes violations at the James A. FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant, including exposing workers to high amounts of radiation and allowing leaks of radioactive material over the past four years.

The NRC's report covers the period of time from April 1, 2016 to June 30, 2016. it was during this period that oil leaked into Lake Ontario from the plant. According to the inspection results, the oil spill wasn't the only problem at the plant during that time.

The report says employees were sent into a high-radiation area without monitoring for it or notifying the radiation protection department, and a failure of an atmospheric control system persisted for over a month and wasn't shut down after 30 days as required.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission also cited FitzPatrick for radioactive materials that spilled out of a filter sludge tank in a room in the plants Radwaste building. The NRC says the cause of the spill has not been corrected and Entergy, the plant's owner, failed to clean up the material. In the citation, the NRC report says "This uncontrolled release and dispersal of highly radioactive material in this room is known to exist for over four years"

"Entergy [Corp., which owns FitzPatrick], by its inaction over four years to correct the spillage, degradation of the solid radwaste system, and inaction to clean-up, package, and ship offsite the resultant accumulation of significant amounts of radioactive material, failed to minimize the introduction of residual radioactivity into the site," the report says. It adds that the accumulation of radioactive waste "adversely affects the scope of future decommissioning" of the plant.

In a statement, an Entergy spokesperson said the room with the waste is locked and monitored at all times and "There has been no release of radioactive material to the environment as a result of the sludge."

The Entergy spokesperson said the company waited to clean up the area because it did not want to subject employees to unnecessary radiation. Entergy has "fabricated a vacuum-type robot that will be used to remove the sludge. The removal is scheduled for this month."

Dave Lochbaum spent 17 years working at nuclear power plants and is now with the Union of Concerned Scientists. Lochbaum read the FitzPatrick inspection report and agreed with the NRC's conclusions

"This radioactively contaminated water was literally flooding one of the rooms at the plant and while that flood did not cause harm to workers or the public, the potential was there for worse outcomes," said Lochbaum.

Here is the full text of the statement from Entergy spokesperson Tammy Holden in response to the NRC's report:

In its 2nd quarter inspection report for FitzPatrick, the NRC determined that violations were of very low safety significance. Each has already been entered into the station’s corrective action program. At no time was the health or safety of our employees or members of the public at risk.

Personnel entered a radiological area of the plant that requires meeting with radiation protection personnel prior to accessing those areas. In both cases, the workers were monitored using the correct Electronic Alarming Dosimeters (a device used to monitor and an employee’s radiation dose) and wore applicable safety equipment for access to the area, however did not meet with radiation protection personnel as required by our procedures in advance of accessing that area. The workers were not exposed to additional radiation levels as they responded appropriately to their EADs. The area they accessed did not result in an overexposure or a potential for overexposure, and did not compromise the ability to assess the workers dose.

The sludge tank identified in the NRC’s report is located in a room in the station’s radwaste facility and contains spent resin and corrosion products. The room is locked at all times. Access to the room is controlled, the radwaste facility is monitored at all times for any changes in radioactivity and the sludge remains contained to the room. There has been no release of radioactive material to the environment as a result of the sludge.

Cleanup of the area had not been conducted previously because we did not want to subject our employees to unnecessary radiation. We have fabricated a vacuum-type robot that will be used to remove the sludge. The removal is scheduled for this month.

You can read the full report below. If you are viewing this article on the mobile app, click here to see the report.

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FitzPatrick has been the subject of headlines for months after Entergy announced last fall it would shut down the financially floundering plant by January 2017. That changed last week when Exelon Corp., which owns the nearby Nine Mile Point facility, announced an agreement had been reached for it to purchase FitzPatrick and keep it operational.

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