TVA looks into tritium leak at Browns Ferry nuclear complex

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is investigating an apparent tritium leak at the three-unit Browns Ferry nuclear complex in Limestone County, Alabama.

That’s according to an event report filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on June 21.

“”TVA has taken immediate action to address the apparent leak following the detection of elevated tritium levels from on-site groundwater monitoring wells and will be monitoring affected wells on an increased frequency,” according to the event reported filed with NRC.

“No elevated tritium levels have been detected from off-site monitoring locations and the public is not at risk,” the report goes on to say.

TVA is in the process of informing the Alabama Radiological Protection Department, Alabama Department of Environmental Management, Limestone County Emergency Management Department, and Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) of recent groundwater monitoring results at the Browns Ferry in accordance with an NEI ground water protection initiative.

Each of the three boiling water reactors (BWRs) at Browns Ferry was originally commissioned in the 1970s. Each has a generating capacity of more than 1,100 MW.

The station had a capacity factor of more than 87% in 2014, according to GenerationHub records.

Tritium is a naturally occurring radioactive form of hydrogen that is produced in the atmosphere when cosmic rays collide with air molecules. As a result, tritium is found in very small or trace amounts in groundwater throughout the world, according to an NRC website.

It is also a byproduct of the production of electricity by nuclear power plants. Tritium emits a weak form of radiation, a low-energy beta particle similar to an electron. The tritium radiation does not travel very far in air and cannot penetrate the skin.

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.