Three-fourths of commercial nuclear power plants in the United States have been found to have leaked radioactive tritium into the earth through corroded pipelines. These incidents have been escalating throughout the years, as more reactors are being licensed by federal regulators.
The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission found that at least 48 of 65 sites leaked tritium. Tritium is a radioactive form of hydrogen. Out of these 48 leaks, at least 37 of them reported concentrations that exceeded the federal drinking water standard. However, rarely any of the leaks were found to have spread beyond the plant boundaries and into the public water supplies. Two plants in Illinois contaminated nearby homes, but the levels did not violate the drinking water standard.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, tritium levels should not exceed more than 20,000 picocuries per liter of drinking water. Specialists have also estimated that those exposed to this type of water may have the possibility of developing cancer. Although the statistical estimation is extremely low, they say there is a small percentage that cancer may still develop.
Reactors have been affected by corrosion for decades. During the years 2000 and 2009, documentations reported 38 leaks from underground pipelines. Practically two-thirds of those reportings were found within the past five years.
Although, many nuclear power plant representatives may take these leakings light heartedly, safety officials continue to stress the precautions we need to take on this issue. A former advisory committee member on Reactor Safeguards stated that a leak is a problem in itself. The leak itself is an issue. In addition, the leaks say a lot about the piping and can be a warning to more drastic problems to come.
There are, however, been efforts to stop the leaks. More monitoring wells have been drilled, along with the replacement of old pipes. Up to now, 66 reactors have been extended a 20 year extension on their original licenses. More reactors are currently pending for approval.