Braidwood Station gets high scores from NRC

Marney Simon
Staff writer

Local couple still seeks answers over tritium spill

As the scheduled outage wraps up at Exelon’s Braidwood Station nuclear power plant, members from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) made themselves available to the public, answering questions about plant performance.

The NRC held an open house on Friday, April 28, at Braidwood City Hall. The annual meeting is held by the plant’s NRC resident inspectors. Those inspectors report to Braidwood Station daily and perform independent inspections on plant performance in engineering, operations, day to day procedures, and other activities of the plant. Reports are put out quarterly, and a public meeting is held once a year.

Currently, Braidwood Station rates with the NRC as in the “licensee response” category, meaning that the plant is running well and capable of responding on its own to NRC requests for action.

“Eighty percent of the plants in the country are there,” said Senior Resident Inspector Daniel Kimble. “They get a minimum amount of baseline inspection, and we really don’t give them any extra attention because it’s just not warranted. Braidwood is performing well, it’s a safe plant, it gets the baseline inspection that everyone else gets, and there’s no justification to go beyond that.”

The meeting, however, was also another chance for Braidwood resident Tom Zimmer to speak out about the power plant, and to ask for answers. Zimmer and his wife regularly attend meetings relating to the nuclear power plant. The couple own a home near the site of the tritium spill that occurred in the late 1990s, when a leak in the blowdown line sent millions of gallons of tritiated water into the ground.

Zimmer said he built his house before the spill was disclosed, and said his wife has suffered health issues, and the couple has lost two dogs to tumors.

“We were never told about it until after we built the house,” Zimmer said. “Somebody should have been held responsible. If people are out there to protect us, they weren’t doing a good job. I never would have built it if I had known the spill was there. Somebody is responsible for it.”

The Zimmers live on Cemetery Road. Their property approximately 1,800 feet away from the plant’s remediation pond. In addition to their claims of health problems due to tritium, the couple has also complained that when Exelon’s pond is pumped, the levels in their own pond drop.

The NRC did not have new answers for the Zimmers, as mitigation efforts are complete and out of the hands of the NRC.

“This is your situation, and it’s very unfortunate. You have been talking about it for years. But this is not the area that we can address,” said Viktoria Mitlyng, Senior Public Affairs Officer with the NRC. “This is about what is going on at the plant, what they are allowed to release, how they run their programs. We did issue a violation, we did require them to take certain [steps], but this is not an area we can address.”

Zimmer did ask, as he has before, for folks from Exelon to answer questions, asking how Exelon “got away” with what he sees as a “cover up” from 1996 until 2005, not disclosing the tritium spill and not disclosing it to the public as quickly as possible.

However, the answers, per the Zimmers, remain unsatisfactory.

“I think we’ve talked about this at many of our own forums, including our public meetings, and there were conditions that went unrecognized, but we have made them right,” said Site Vice President Marri Marchionda-Palmer. “We have remediated on site, we have remediated off site, we have increased our monitoring, and our performance today as a company, we’ve reduced tritium at all of our sites. We keep very low levels in all of our storage tanks. And all of our performance has improved. So yes, we made mistakes. Yes, we corrected them, and yes we are currently performing at extremely high levels by all industry standards.”

But the Zimmers left the meeting with no more answers than they had going into it.

“I’m paying for those mistakes. I have a piece of property that I can’t get rid of. If I had been told, I never would have built on it,” Zimmer said. “I just feel that somebody should have been responsible for that gap from ’96 to 2005, not saying anything, we went and built right in there. But nobody wants to do anything about it.”

Marchionda-Palmer said the company has invested years of remediation on the property, but agreed it was unlikely that the Zimmers would be satisfied with answers presented by Exelon.

As far as current operations, the NRC said the last word is, Braidwood Station is safe.

“As far as the plant goes, today, the plant is running well,” Kimble said. “The plant is safe to operate, we go in every day, we look at what’s going on, we look at what the utility does, the tests they run, the procedures they run, the activities that they perform, and our assessment is that it’s safe to operate. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t let them operate.”