QUIJANO CALLS ON NRC TO ENHANCE OVERSIGHT OF NUCLEAR SAFETY STANDARDS IN NEW JERSEY

(TRENTON) — Responding to the results of a year-long investigation by the Associated Press into the safety of the nation’s nuclear power plants published Monday that found an increase of radioactive leakage into the environment, Assembly Homeland Security and State Preparedness Committee Chairwoman Annette Quijano is drafting a resolution urging the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to enhance its oversight of New Jersey’s aging nuclear reactors.

“The AP’s investigation paints a troubling picture of our nation’s ongoing nuclear oversight,” said Quijano (D-Union). “Our reactors are obviously not aging well and it would seem that it is only a matter of time until the public is put at serious risk due to a structural failure, a natural disaster or, God forbid, an act of terror.”

The AP’s investigation found that tritium — a radioactive form of hydrogen and a byproduct of nuclear fission — has leaked from at least 48 of the nation’s 65 nuclear power plants. Leaks from at least 37 facilities exceeded the federal drinking water standards set forth by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In almost all of the cases, the culprit was found to be corroding underground pipes, some of which serve as emergency conduits to cool reactors in the case of a meltdown or other reactor core crisis.

According to Quijano, of particular concern is the severity of leaks reported from New Jersey facilities. One of the highest known tritium readings ever recorded was discovered in 2002 at the Salem nuclear plant in Lower Alloways Creek Township. A leak from the spent fuel pool contaminated groundwater under the facility at a concentration of 15 million picocuries per liter, or 750 times the EPA drinking water limit. As of last year, readings from the contaminated area still exceeded EPA standards.

And in April 2009, just a week after it was relicensed to run for an additional 20 years, the Oyster Creek facility in Lacey Township — the nation’s oldest operating reactor — discovered a tritium contamination by chance in 3,000 gallons of water that had leaked into a concrete vault housing electrical lines. Since then, three more tritium leaks have been found at the plant, with concentrations of up to 10.8 million picocuries per liter, or 540 times the EPA drinking water limit.

In response to the AP’s report, Quijano, as Chair of the Assembly’s homeland security panel, is drafting a resolution urging the NRC to intensify its oversight of New Jersey’s aging nuclear reactors.

“We cannot leave the health and safety of New Jersey’s residents to chance, especially when radioactive leaks at New Jersey’s reactors are among the worst in the nation,” said Quijano. “It seems clear to me that nuclear operators are hard pressed to maintain the safe operation of their plants. The NRC, therefore, needs to take a more active role in ensuring that the radiation generated by our nuclear power plants does not — and cannot — continue to leak into our environment.”