COLUMBIA, S.C. — Radioactive uranium leaked through the floor of a nuclear fuel plant in South Carolina but state health officials say they don’t think the material has threatened water supplies.
The material leaked through an eight-centimetre hole in the concrete floor where acid is used at the Westinghouse plant south of Columbia, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
The NRC learned of the leak July 12 and said the hole is two metres deep, according to records obtained by The State newspaper.
There is no reason to think the uranium has moved away from the plant or threatens water supplies because there are no private homes downstream of the plant and no public water supply wells three kilometres of the hole, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
But the agency is awaiting groundwater tests on the Westinghouse property, spokesman Tommy Crosby said.
“Based on existing information, there is no threat to the public from this recent release or from historical groundwater contamination at this secured site as there is no exposure risk to the general public,” Crosby said in an email to the newspaper.
The uranium in the soil near the hole reached 4,000 parts per million, according to federal records, which is 1,300 times greater than normal.
Westinghouse and the federal government need to explain how long uranium was leaking through the hole into the soil, said Tom Clements, an anti-nuclear activist.
“It’s a pretty big concern if you have an unknown quantity of material containing uranium leaching into the groundwater,” Clements said.
The plant uses uranium to make the fuel rods for commercial nuclear reactors.
The company covered the hole in the floor with a metal plate and isn’t using the chemical-processing equipment in the area until the hole is repaired, Westinghouse spokeswoman Sarah Cassella said in an email.
Westinghouse had to shut down part of the plant 16 kilometres southeast of downtown Columbia two years ago when uranium built up in an air pollution device and was cited by federal regulators earlier this year for not having proper procedures in place to limit a burst of radiation.
The company has brought in new management and pledged to be more safety conscious.
Westinghouse also was the main contractor for the construction of two nuclear plants abandoned in South Carolina last year without ever generating power after utilities spent more than $9 billion over a decade.
The company filed for bankruptcy in 2017.