Questionable Nuclear Plant Practices

6:47 pm Business Stories


Page: 1A
By DAWN SHURMAITIS; Times Leader Staff Writer

SALEM TWP. — It’s September 1995 and a tanker truck possibly contaminated
with low doses of radiation leaves the Susquehanna Steam Electric Station,
bound for New Jersey.

Once there, the truck is sold. The new owner cleans it out at a car wash in
Lancaster. From there, the truck travels to Canada. In February — five months after the truck left the nuclear power plant –the new owner finds a radioactive material label on the truck.


Wednesday, after reviewing the incident, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
cited the owners of the nuclear power plant for disposing of radioactive
sludge as non-radioactive waste.

In other words, according to NRC spokeswoman Diane Screnci, potentially
radioactive material ended up down a car wash drain. Since the truck was
cleaned, there is no way to know if the river water and sludge residue
inside was contaminated. The power plant uses river water in the cooling
process. The sludge is a by-product. The truck was used to dispose of both.
But, she said, any dose would have been low and presented no danger to the
general public or the truck driver.

The plant is co-owned by the Allentown-based Pennsylvania Power & Light
Co., which owns 2,500 acres in Salem Township, 18 miles from Wilkes-Barre.

The NRC also cited PP&L with another violation for failing to post a sign
with the words “Danger” or “Caution” in a high radiation area at the plant.

In its report, the NRC lauded PP&L for taking quick action and for
generally operating safely. But, the report said, “The violations are of
concern because there were multiple examples of the weaknesses identified
by these violations.”

The violations were the lowest of four levels and do not carry fines, said
Screnci, who said public safety was not jeopardized.

PP&L spokesman Joe Scopelliti said the company does not plan to protest the

“We don’t believe we’re perfect,” Scopelliti said. “We have made
corrections where they need to be made. We believe we have a very good
health physics (radiation control) program, but there’s always room for

In its 39-page inspection report, issued May 23, the NRC also noted it took
a “very critical look” at contamination control practices at the plant.

Allowing 58 contaminated tools to leave the controlled area, and in some
cases the plant itself, was initially considered a violation but since PP&L
initiated corrective actions, the NRC treated it as a “non-cited

The highest level of contamination was found on a wrench, which registered
2,000 counts per minute, more than 20 times above the acceptable level of
100 counts per minute. The levels of the other items were just above the
acceptable level.

The NRC also noted:

System and practices for control of releases from the Radiation Controlled
Area of the plant were not “globally understood, effectively communicated
or consistently implemented.”

The radiological tool control program and implementation had deficiencies
which resulted in the release of radioactive material from the RCA.

Inadequate training, supervision and work environment contributed to
performance errors resulting in the release of radioactive material from
the RCA.

Because PP&L conducted a “very critical” self evaluation and acted to
improve its radiological control, the NRC did not issue additional
violations, Screnci said.

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