Regulators: Water with traces of radioactive hydrogen leaked at SC nuclear plant; no emergency

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Water with traces of a radioactive hydrogen isotope leaked at a nuclear power plant in South Carolina, but the level of tritium in the water is well below limits that would make it dangerous to drink, federal regulators said.

The leak was reported Tuesday night at the Catawba Nuclear Station in York County in a fiberglass pipe that takes water from a turbine pump to a holding pond, where it is tested before it is released back into Lake Wylie, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said.

The level of tritium in the water was also less than half the federal limit for safe drinking water, NRC spokesman Roger Hannah said.

Duke Energy, which runs the plant, said the leak was contained entirely within the site and took steps to make sure the contaminated water doesn’t reach groundwater. The utility tests groundwater in wells throughout the area regularly and hasn’t seen any cause for alarm, spokeswoman Mary Kathryn Green said.

“We know where water runs on our site. That’s part of the placement of our wells,” Green said.

The leak happened a half-mile inside the nuclear plant’s property, Duke Energy said.

The utility reported more than 100 gallons of water leaked, but the exact amount may not be known. It could have been less, but Duke Energy reported it out of an abundance of caution, Green said.

Crews have bypassed the pipe and are doing repairs. The nuclear plant continues to operate normally, Green said.

The NRC is monitoring Duke Energy’s response to the leak and will decide after it gathers information about the problem whether additional inspections are needed, Hannah said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says drinking water that contains tritium can increase the risk of developing cancer.