Workers found radioactive contamination last week on the outside of a trailer used to transport fuel at PPL’s nuclear power plant in Salem Township, PA, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) said.
The 32-tire trailer moves spent nuclear fuel rods in 100-ton containers from the plant to long-term storage sites. The contaminant cesium, found in the grease of the trailer, is a byproduct of the nuclear fuel burning process that can seep out of leaky containers holding fuel rods.
Because of PPL Susquehanna Nuclear Power Plant’s “good history” in preventing leaks and the fact it sometimes loans the trailer out to other plants, the contaminant is thought to have come from another plant, NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said.
“On its face, it makes sense that this wouldn’t come from their operations,” Sheehan said.
The contamination levels were very low and not dangerous, said Joe Scopelliti, a spokesman for the plant, but still above those deemed acceptable to be in a public space by the Department of Transportation. The trailer most recently operated at a Michigan nuclear plant last year and they returned it in June.
“If this had not left the site, it really would not be an issue,” Sheehan said.
The NRC and the plant are now investigating why no one discovered the radioactivity when it left the Michigan plant. No one checked the trailer upon its return because no one designated it as a radioactive shipment, Scopelliti said. Workers discovered the cesium on the trailer a week ago this past Tuesday as workers prepared it for another round of fuel rod removal. The company reported it to the NRC on Friday.
Plant personnel have scrubbed the substance off and the two reactors at the site continue to operate, Scopelliti said.