By Kim Smith
Herald News Staff Writer
The power company Exelon has received a second notice of violations at its nuclear power plant in the Braidwood area, part of the state’s investigation into radioactive water spills.
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama wants to force nuclear companies to immediately report all leaks of radioactive substances. The Illinois Democrat announced plans for such legislation Wednesday.
Regarding the state action, Exelon can be fined up to $10,000 per day for each violation. The enforcing office is the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, which has been looking into spills of the radioactive isotope tritium at and around the Braidwood plant, which actually is in Braceville.
The spills recently were reported by Exelon to have occurred in 1996, 1998 and 2000.
“This is above and beyond the first letter of a violation,” said Bill Buscher, IEPA technology project manager for the Braidwood plant.
“This is another part of our investigation into the same spills that we have been discussing.”
The violation notice letter specifically identifies violations of environmental regulations around vacuum breakers 4 and 7 and on the west side of the turbine building. A map of the area is available on the IEPA Web site at www.epa.state.il.us (under “community relations,” hit “fact sheets,” and scroll down to “exelon-braidwood”).
The first violation notice, sent by the IEPA on Dec. 16, was for an area surrounding vacuum breaker 3.
The fact that the public or other government agencies were not made aware of the spills has been the cause of controversy.
On Wednesday, Obama said he soon will introduce legislation that would require nuclear companies to inform state and local officials if there is an accident or unintentional leak of a radioactive substance as soon as the problems are discovered.
Under current federal laws, such notifications are not required.
“If potentially hazardous materials are released into the environment, then those families living in the affected communities deserve to be notified immediately,” Obama said. “As more about these leaks comes out years later, it’s clear that relying on the federal government or a corporation concerned about protecting its image to disclose this information is not enough.”
In Will County, the state’s attorney’s office is investigating the reasons why Exelon waited several years to disclose the leaks.
Recently, Exelon admitted to finding elevated levels of radioactive material in water leaked from the Dresden nuclear power plant in Grundy County and at the Byron nuclear plant near Rockford. Last, week, groundwater tests in a Grundy County test well showed levels 25 times higher than the federal standard of 20,000 picocuries per liter for drinking water. That standard is set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“This is about the public’s right to know today, not eight years later,” Obama said.
Exelon, leaders debate
Exelon officials have admitted on several occasions that they have made mistakes in the past. Recently, Exelon said it would help defray the costs of bottled water after the health department recommended that residents uncertain of their water quality should use bottled water for drinking and cooking.
U.S. Rep. Jerry Weller, R-Morris, is against the use of any public funds to bail out the power company, the congressman said in a letter to John Rowe, Exelon’s chairman, president and chief executive officer.
“I believe Exelon bears the sole responsibility, both logistical and financial, to ensure local residents have a clean and reliable drinking water source,” Weller said.
Weller said Exelon should pick up the estimated $12 million tab to bring water and sewer lines into the nearby village of Godley because it would go a long way in restoring public trust and confidence.
He also said the power company could pay for Godley to be hooked up to nearby water systems in Braidwood or Wilmington, or to its own private facility.
Craig Nesbit, Exelon spokesman, said the system used by the company is not large enough to serve the nearly 300 homes in need of an improved water system. Nesbit said Exelon is not responsible for all of Godley and Reed Township’s water problems. He said most residents rely on shallow-point sand wells that can be infiltrated with fertilizers from farm fields, road run-off and septic systems.
Exelon officials said no high levels of tritium were found in private drinking wells that were tested.