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Health officials say a radioactive form of hydrogen that leaked from a Vermont nuclear plant into soil and groundwater has reached the nearby Connecticut River.
State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Harry Chen said Wednesday water samples from the shoreline near the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant last month tested positive for small amounts of tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that's been linked to cancer when ingested in large amounts.
Gov. Peter Shumlin wants more wells to pull contaminated water from the ground on the Vermont Yankee site. He says he's "very concerned."
Tritium has leaked from nuclear plants around the country. It's particularly problematic for Vermont Yankee as it seeks to renew its license.
New Orleans-based plant owner Entergy Corp. is suing Vermont in federal court over the state's efforts to shut the plant down.
Tritium, which is a radioactive form of hydrogen, has leaked from at least 48 of 65 sites, according to U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission records reviewed as part of the AP's yearlong examination of safety issues at aging nuclear power plants. Leaks from at least 37 of those facilities contained concentrations exceeding the federal drinking water standard – sometimes at hundreds of times the limit.
Meantime, the reactors keep getting older – 66 have been approved for 20-year extensions to their original 40-year licenses, with 16 more extensions pending. And, as the AP has been reporting in its ongoing series, Aging Nukes, regulators and industry have worked in concert to loosen safety standards to keep the plants operating.
One of the highest known tritium readings was discovered in 2002 at the Salem nuclear plant in Lower Alloways Creek Township, N.J. Tritium leaks from the spent fuel pool contaminated groundwater under the facility – located on an island in Delaware Bay – at a concentration of 15 million picocuries per liter. That's 750 times the EPA drinking water limit. According to NRC records, the tritium readings last year still exceeded EPA drinking water standards.