An underground pipe that leaked radioactive water underneath a nuclear power plant in Georgia is now sealed and will end up replaced with an above-ground pipe, officials said.
Workers welded covers onto the ends of the faulty pipe below Plant Hatch in Baxley, Atlanta-based Southern Co. officials said. As a result of the leak, the plant will no longer use that pipe, utility spokeswoman Amoi Geter said Monday. An above-ground pipe will replace it.
The company learned of the leak last month when it detected abnormal amounts of tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen, in test wells at the plant. Geter said there are no signs the radioactive water moved off the property.
Tritium does have a cancer threat if ingested or absorbed through the skin in large amounts. The utility said it’s highly unlikely the contaminated water would get into drinking wells.
Tritium is a radioactive form of hydrogen and is a byproduct inside nuclear reactors. It is usually in water. The maximum concentrations of tritium reported inside the wells was more than 200 times the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency limit set for drinking water, according to a report Southern Co. officials filed with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
Testing by the utility showed no signs that tritium from this leak has gotten into aquifers that supply drinking water or into the nearby Altamaha River, which provides cooling water for the nuclear plant. The contours of the ground would tend to move the tritium away from the nearest private well, which is roughly a mile from the site, and toward the river, said Jim Hardeman, manager of the state’s environmental radiation program.
This is not the first time the plant, which started producing power more than 30 years ago, suffered from tritium leaks. Southern Co. hired a consultant in the late 1970s and early 1980s to investigate earlier leaks, according to a report from the utility. In 2006, the company replaced piping and made other repairs to fix or prevent tritium leaks near where they found the problem last week.