Radioactive Plume in South Carolina Leaking into Savannah River
(APN) ATLANTA — The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) confirmed to the South Carolina Governor’s Nuclear Advisory Council recently that a plume of radioactive Tritium is moving off the Barnwell Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Facility, in Barnwell, South Carolina.
The plume is traveling in the groundwater southwest toward the Savannah River Site.
Traces of tritium have also been found in Mary Branch Creek.
WLTX TV in Columbia, South Carolina, first reported on the Department’s admission, although environmentalists claim this has been going on for years.
“The plume started moving off the Barnwell site years ago. In fact, they dug up the adjacent church because there was contamination of soil and groundwater and that was ten years ago. Just like every other low-level nuclear waste site in this country, they have all leaked,” Susan Corbett, Chair South Carolina Sierra Club, told Atlanta Progressive News.
“All these [nuclear] dump sites leak. We are only looking at one isotope, I think there will be lots of other stuff coming after the tritium,” Tom Clements, Southeast Nuclear Campaign Coordinators for Friends of the Earth, told APN.
“I sent a message to DHEC asking for data on other radioactive isotopes that may be leaking. They are only reporting tritium, but other things are soluble in water. I want to know what else is leaking from the dump. They [DHEC] have not communicated that,” Clements said.
“Tritium has historically been leaking from the site probably since they first started using it over thirty years ago. I’ve seen photos of boxes with waste and other material just sitting in water in the bottom of trenches where they dumped it. The leak has been there for a long time,” Clements said.
“It [tritiated water] flows into the creek [Mary Branch] and the levels are very high in the creek. Then it flows on to the Savannah River Site and into a lake and that goes into the Savannah River. It then moves out and downward. So the risk is over time, if the deeper water table gets contaminated and if the river receives materials,” Clements said.
“No one is drinking the water in the immediate area of the dump site. Everything that travels out and into the Savannah River and travels downstream eventually gets in the drinking water of people that use the Savannah River as their water source. Since tritium has a half life of twelve years, it takes ten half lives, or 120 years to be all gone,” Corbett said.
“There is no safe level of radiation especially when it is taken internally. The industry says you can’t prove it does any harm and that is the escape clause they use. But they can’t prove that it doesn’t cause harm. We believe you should err on the side of caution,” Corbett said.
The Barnwell facility occupies about 235 acres deeded to the State of South Carolina by Chem-Nuclear Systems (CNS). Disposal of waste began at the facility in 1971 and Chem-Nuclear Systems (CNS), currently owned by Energy Solutions, has been the sole operator since that time, according to their website.
Barnwell has accepted over 27 million cubic feet (765,000 cubic meters) of radioactive waste from across the U.S., mostly from nuclear power plants.
Since July 2008, the Chem-Nuclear Site only accepts waste from the three member states of the Atlantic Compact: Connecticut, New Jersey, and South Carolina.
“There are lots more dangerous radioactive nuclei in that waste than tritium. There’s plutonium, strontium, cesium, and pretty much every radioactive isotope that humans create are in the low-level waste. Just because the tritium has leaked out does not mean it will stop there, eventually all of those heavier things will leak out too,” Corbett said.
“They are not as mobile as the tritium. It will just take them longer but as the containment decays and the water table rise and larger pathways are created underground those things will move off site as well. It may not happen in my lifetime but it will eventually happen. Future generations will have to deal with this,” Corbett said.
“You can’t really remove tritium [from water] but I don’t think they are doing enough to stop this plume from moving and I don’t know if they can,” Clements said.
“What else is leaking or going to leak? And why aren’t they sampling? What are they doing to stop more leakage from the site? What are they doing to remediate the water?” Clements asks. “The answer appears to be nothing!”
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission states that the health risks from tritium exposure include increased occurrence of cancer and genetic abnormalities in future generations.