‘Low-level’ tritium spill reported at TVA Browns Ferry plant

Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) officials have dealt with a ‘low-level’ tritium leak at the Browns Ferry nuclear complex in Alabama.

TVA detailed the tritium leak information in a Jan. 9 “event notification” filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The leak was discovered about 7 a.m. on Jan. 7.

TVA’s “best estimate” is that the spill amounted to between 100 and 200 gallons. TVA has contained it and is cleaning it up, a spokesperson told GenerationHub Jan. 12. “We do not expect it to migrate to any public waterway,” the utility spokesperson said.

Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen. As with all ionizing radiation, exposure to tritium increases the risk of developing cancer, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Tritium was present at a concentration of 7.52E-3 uCi/mL, which is above the EPA drinking water standard of 20,000 picocuries per liter, according to the report. “No other radioactive isotopes were identified. The leak rate was estimated at approximately 0.5 gpm and determined to be from the condensate head tank,” according to the event report.

 “Actions were immediately taken to terminate the leak once the flowpath was identified,” TVA went on to say in the report.

“The flowpath was terminated two hours and 45 minutes after identification,” TVA said in the report. “Based on system review and analysis, any tritiated water that would have made it to the floor drains would then be mixed with incoming raw water at two million gallons per minute. This mixed volume of water would then be circulated through the plant and discharged to the river with a resultant tritium concentration that is much less than detectable levels and well below US EPA drinking water standards.”

The nuclear plant has set up increased monitoring of groundwater at designated sample wells, according to TVA. In addition to NRC, various state and local agencies in Alabama were also notified.

Browns Ferry, located in Limestone County, Ala., includes three roughly 1,100-MW boiling water reactors (BWRs). In 2012, the station was listed with a capacity factor of more than 85%, according to GenerationHub data.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.