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Petition to NRC on Longstanding Radioactive Leaks

The 103 nuclear power reactors operating in the United States generate about 20 percent of the nation's electricity. They generate an even larger percentage of the nation's radioactive waste. Inherent byproducts of nuclear generated electricity are vast quantities of radioactively contaminated gases and liquids. Federal regulations seek to protect public health and safety from harm by limiting how much of these radioactive materials can be released from a nuclear facility to the air and water during both routine operation and under accident conditions.

A series of events—occurring at a quickening pace and with increasing magnitude—raise serious questions about whether nuclear facilities across the United States are in compliance with these federal regulations and, more importantly, whether members of the public are at jeopardy. The purpose of this petition is to promptly answer these vital questions.

Within the past 10 years, at least seven events have occurred at U.S. nuclear facilities where water contaminated with radioactivity leaked into the ground. These leaks were initially undetected and remained undetected for as long as 12 years. In at least one case, the leak was not detected until after an underground plume of several million gallons of contaminated water traveled beyond the nuclear facility's site into drinking wells. In most cases, the leak was finally detected more by happenstance than by rigorous monitoring. In all cases, a small leak undetected for an extended period of time permitted large amounts of contaminated water to enter the ground around the facilities.

There is little reason to believe this is an unabridged listing of nuclear facilities experiencing leakages of contaminated water. It seems entirely possible, if not highly likely, that one or more nuclear facilities have an ongoing leak that has yet to be detected. The public health stakes are simply too high to leave this issue unsettled.

UCS and a coalition of organizations and individuals across the country are extremely disappointed that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has thus far treated these leaks as isolated events and ignored their generic implications. The NRC has not issued correspondence to other licensees requiring them to verify there are no similar leaks ongoing at their facilities. The NRC has not met with licensees to discuss the situation and develop genuine basis for believing the problem is confined to these few facilities. The NRC has not taken steps necessary to ensure that members of the public are not now being exposed to radiation from undetected leaks.

To remedy this inaction, the coalition formally petitioned the NRC under the provisions of §2.206 of Title 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations to take enforcement action against all applicable licensees by issuing a Demand For Information requiring them to submit information about potential leakage at their facilities.

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