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Tritium Leak At Vermont Nuclear Plant Grows 295

Posted by Soulskill
from the time-to-step-up-your-broccoli-consumption dept.
mdsolar writes "The tritium leak into ground water at Vermont Yankee has now tested at 775,000 picocuries per liter, 37 times higher than the federal drinking water standard. 'Despite the much higher reading, an NRC spokeswoman said Thursday there was nothing to fear. "There's not currently, nor is there likely to be, an impact on public health or safety or the environment," the NRC's Diane Screnci said in an interview. She had maintained previously that the Environmental Protection Agency drinking water safety limit of 20,000 picocuries per liter had an abundance of caution built into it. ... The National Academy of Sciences said in 2005 that any exposure to ionizing radiation from an isotope like tritium elevates the risk of cancer, though it also said with small exposures, the risk would be low. ' At what level should the NRC shut down the troubled plant?"
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Tritium Leak At Vermont Nuclear Plant Grows

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  • Wow... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nemyst (1383049) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @12:20PM (#31046006) Homepage
    Way to shoot yourself in the foot. Why aren't those leaks taken care of fast, whether they are or aren't actually dangerous? We've had enough issues with fear of nuclear power, no need to let such stories grow out of proportions. Otherwise, we'll never see the US convert to nuclear power instead of gas and coal.
    • Re:Wow... (Score:5, Funny)

      by Kartoffel (30238) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @12:25PM (#31046038)

      I would shoot myself in the foot, but it's dark and the tritium seems to have leaked out of my gun sights....

      • by Is0m0rph (819726)
        Thanks to the tritrium I can now see in the dark! Thanks Vermont Yankee!
    • Re:Wow... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by poena.dare (306891) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @12:30PM (#31046068)

      "On Jan. 7, it was reported that radioactive tritium was leaking from the Vernon reactor into groundwater; the source of the leak has not been found. The following week, it was revealed that Entergy officials had misled state regulators and lawmakers several times in 2008 and 2009 by saying Vermont Yankee did not have the type of underground pipes that could carry tritium."

      I very pro-Nuke power... Well regulated, well maintained nuke power, that is. What I don't understand is why we have standards about acceptable contamination levels and then allow corporations to exceed them without severe recourse.

      Not being able to find the leak after a month makes it sound like Entergy doesn't even know how their own plant works.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Mitchell314 (1576581)
        Yeah, things like this also do damage in worsening the public view of nuclear power.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Um......

        That's because they (the people there now) DON'T know how their plant works.

        VY went online in November 30, 1972...

        How many original employees do you think still exist there? I'd bet its zero. Or close to it.

        How many of the original engineers are even still alive?

        They operate at 120% of designed capacity right now too.

        Just another example of not taking care of our nations vital infrastructure. Altho in this case it can kill us. BRILLIANT!

        captcha:radiator (LOL)

        • Re:Wow... (Score:4, Insightful)

          by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @01:26PM (#31046462) Journal
          Obviously, loss of the unwritten wisdom and muscle memory and whatnot of people who retire is inevitable. Not much you can do about.

          However, losing entire pipe systems suggests that your organization is suffering from severe failures in the area of documenting and controlling complex systems over time.

          Keeping a handle on your complex system, whether it be a plant or a program, is hard; but if you can't do it, you really should consider a career change to something less important.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Smallpond (221300)

            Wait long enough and any technology can be lost. Lots of old cities still have wood water pipes. Good luck finding someone who knows where they are or can repair them.
            http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/18/us/18water.html [nytimes.com]

            • Re:Wow... (Score:5, Interesting)

              by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @04:28PM (#31047686) Journal
              Oh, the problem is by no means confined to this particular power plant. In fact, I'd argue that it is an extremely general problem, extending across the domains of system planning, document format design, library science, GIS, human resources, and others. It is also a very important problem to solve, or at least chip away at, if we want to continue to enjoy the fruits of highly complex technological civilization.

              The people who design and build complex systems are always going to leave, retire, or die. Advances in medicine have modestly extended the time horizon on the last two of those events, and sufficiently large sums of money can reverse the first(though, in general, there seems to have been a trend toward people moving around faster than in times past).

              Certain sorts of knowledge and experience are, at least without really creepy brain implants and other sci-fi stuff, basically impossible to capture. The muscle memory of a skilled technician moving through a complex series of manipulations, the emotional conditioning of a soldier continuing to function under extreme stress and danger, or the performance of a scientist or engineer(or, in more mundane cases, a support tech) who is so familiar with a system's parts that he can troubleshoot it as though by intuition.

              Barring substantial advances in man-machine interfaces or assistive technologies, the best we can really do to try to capture these is to foster the correct funding and HR environments. This doesn't mean unlimited lavish funding for everybody, that would be unrealistic; but it does mean trying to avoid boom/bust or feast/famine cycles. You want a steady continuity, with new hires having time to absorb experience from veterans, rather than having a purge/binge cycle, where efficient, well operating systems are cut to the bone(because hey, if they can keep the lights on with 5 engineers, 10 is clearly just a waste, just in time is the future, man!) until they start to fall apart, and then a whole bunch of noobs are hurridly hired and forced to reverse engineer the pieces and get things running again.

              Other aspects of institutional memory, while hard to capture, are at least in theory amenable to technological solution, if a serious and conscious effort is made to do things properly. Digital archivists and aggressive format standardization are one part of the puzzle. If your power plant/factor/whatever was CADed, your staff today should be able to call up the plans. If changes were made, they should be able to know when, where, what, why and who(similar, in principle, to the revision control systems used in software production). This is, admittedly, hard. It is quite possible that some 3rd party contractor CADed the place using an obscure, industry-specific CAD package from the 80s, and may or may not have shared the full specs with you. It is, however, necessary, and we as people with a stake in complex industrial society, need to do something about it.

              The other half of the puzzle, since keeping records in sync with reality is extremely hard and is inevitably going to fail from time to time, probably lies in the development of embedded sensors, "smart dust", and suchlike projects. Ideally, we should not only have the records of what the world is supposed to look like; but be able to programmatically interrogate the world and determine how closely it is adhering to our records, both in the sense of "Hey, look, the tertiary Toxin Shunt is developing stress fractures, it should be replaced within the next 100 hours." and "Hmm, flow-rate readings on the 2nd street water main look off compared to water meter readings in the area, we should check for possible tree roots, leaks, unauthorized diversions, or other deviations from the design."

              These are hard problems, and I don't actually suspect that the Vermont nuclear guys are unusually incompetent about it(though, losing tritium is more serious than just leaking water, so that is still kind of a problem); but this is an example of a very complex, very serious, and very important problem that we will have to come to a solution to. Complexity is hard; but if we want its benefits, we'll have to figure something out.
      • Re:Wow... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by rhyder128k (1051042) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @01:30PM (#31046500) Homepage

        "At what level should the NRC shut down the troubled plant?"

        When the projected costs of liability for cancer exceed the projected profits? Oh sorry, you said "At what level should", I read that as "At what level will they". My mistake.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sjames (1099)

        More like they don't care to actually spend the money. It's exactly the short sighted nothing but the quarterly report matters thinking that is busily torpedoing the U.S. economy. A rational person would rather fix the problem now than create yet another public backlash against nuclear power.

      • by plopez (54068) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @01:52PM (#31046660) Journal

        One of the 10000 or so jobs I have over the years was working in a refinery for a few months. During that time some of the workers tried to find some pipes for maintenance. No one knew where they were. There were the design diagrams, the "as-builts" and numerous additions and removals by contractors upgrading and doing maintenance. Some new ones were out in, some ripped out, and others abandoned in place.

        Metal detectors did not help, there was too much metal buried and scattered around.

        The situation was so bad they resorted to dowsing. I'm serious!

        Lately I've heard of small robots using GPS to travel a pipe and map it out. But with so many old plants and old pipes, it will be a long time before the situation is unsnarled.

        • by Herve5 (879674)

          GPS underground?
          I'd rather imagine robots equipped with accelerometers, ie a technique that'll start getting errors in the % range after just some m...

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by dgatwood (11270)

            Accelerometers? Stepper motors and/or rotary encoders are your friend.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by noidentity (188756)

        The tritium leak into ground water at Vermont Yankee has now tested at 775,000 picocuries per liter[...] the NRC's Diane Screnci [...] maintained previously that the Environmental Protection Agency drinking water safety limit of 20,000 picocuries per liter had an abundance of caution built into it.

        What's the purpose of a safety limit and abundance of caution if you're going to turn around and claim that it's got lots of caution and therefore can be ignored? Or put another way, does this mean that she consi

        • by dgatwood (11270)

          As I understand it, the out-of-spec contamination level is measured inside the plant, not at the standard distance for test wells. The test wells are still within spec. They'll get there eventually, in all likelihood, but they're not there yet.

      • by bwcbwc (601780)

        I agree about the need for _well-regulated_ nuclear power. If the plant is exceeding the legal limit, especially by a factor of 37 or so and even more-so with the stone-walling that appears to have taken place, it's time to shut it down. If the legal limit is set too low, that is a separate matter from the fact that they are violating the current law. If I'm going 90 in a 65 MPH zone, I can't defend myself by saying that 90 is a safe speed on that road, even if my analysis is correct that the road is safe

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by conureman (748753)

      I'd be less skeptical of the Nuclear Industry if they weren't run by people with PhDs in subjects like "Controlling Product Life Cycles". Same as not buying Chinese Baby Food, this is just a groundless prejudice of mine; YMMV.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Hey at least in China some top officials get executed for big screw ups or corruption.

        Sure not all top Chinese officials have that risk, but it's still better accountability than in my 3rd world country (Malaysia), where the agency that investigates corruption is a poor joke - they don't even seem to have video recordings of "interviews" (I don't see any evidence of recordings of an interviewee that somehow jumped/fell from the 14th floor of their building).

        And it's certainly a big difference from ruining o
  • by Anne Thwacks (531696) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @12:26PM (#31046044)
    Nuke it from high orbit

    Oh, wait...

  • Surely there's plenty of potential for making heavy water (d2o), right?

  • by mysqlrocks (783488) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @12:34PM (#31046094) Homepage Journal
    Actually, the latest reading was 2.7 million picocuries: http://www.vpr.net/news_detail/87126/ [vpr.net]
    • by biryokumaru (822262) * <biryokumaru@gmail.com> on Saturday February 06, 2010 @12:38PM (#31046122)
      Can't we just say 2.7 microcuries now?
      • by jschen (1249578)
        You can. But it's convenient to express data using the most common unit for related data. For example, you could state the distance between Los Angeles and Sydney in megameters, but you almost certainly would choose kilometers over megameters.
        • Picocuries (or micromicrocuries, whatever suits your fancy) might be the standard for radcon experts, but they are no where near as ubiquitous as kilometers. Besides, why don't we use megameters? The general public is apparantly able to fathom the difference between megabyte and gigabyte, why not use standard terminology for everything?
          • by sabernet (751826)

            Pfft, I've been using "decahectometers" ever since I saw the term "megagig" on Smallville.

        • Oddly, if you were an astronomer, you'd express it in centimeters....

        • It's common practice, yes. Unless you were a console manufacturer in the 80s.
      • Can't we just say 2.7 microcuries now?

        Only if we can also say that it is mixed with dihydrogen monoxide [wikipedia.org] so that it sounds especially menacing; a veritable toxic stew that will have your kids glowing in the dark from 10 miles away! No more nuclear power...boo.

    • by Animats (122034) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @01:05PM (#31046322) Homepage

      That's good. That reading is a sump inside the plant. It's about the level of the process water, so it's near the leak. They're getting close.

      The hazardous readings are all within the plant perimeter. Additional monitoring of off-site wells has been started (ten locations are normally monitored by the State of Vermont, but monthly) and those aren't showing any significant radioactivity.

  • by YesIAmAScript (886271) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @12:38PM (#31046120)

    The article says the levels in the well from before doubled and are still below the federal level. Levels at another existing well dropped. And a new well was drilled to try to find the leak and it has a much higher concentration of tritium.

    Unless you're drinking from the new well (and no one is, it's a test well), this doesn't really affect you at all. It's not like you're getting 37x as much radiation now (at least as far as the data we have says). And it's part of the process of finding the leak and fixing it.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      How nice from the contaminated ground water to stay inside those wells .... oh wait, d'ooh it doesnt!

      this will move to other areas, and do not forget that the water might be drunk and while we humans can take a little radiation -outside- our bodies, having this stuff in water we drink is a big recipe for cancer (and do not forget, radiation levels are cumulated over time in our bodies - they do not get lower, they add together!)

      • by khallow (566160)

        and do not forget, radiation levels are cumulated over time in our bodies - they do not get lower, they add together!

        Citation needed.

      • by YesIAmAScript (886271) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @03:33PM (#31047332)

        Of course it doesn't stay in those wells, that's how it was found in the other well too. And it's surely in other wells even further away, just at lower concentrations.

        That's why they're looking for the source of the leak by drilling more wells. Once they find the leak they can fix it.

        Some say they should shut down the plant while they find the leak. Which is an interesting concept. Do you know how they find leaks in underground pipes? They put in radioactive tracers and then detect for it.

        http://www.darvill.clara.net/nucrad/uses.htm [clara.net]

        So, as long as the levels of radiation at wells outside the plant are low enough it's safe to keep running the plant while the leak is found.

        Also, radiation doesn't build up in your body. There is a model for body damage from radiation that counts cumulative exposure over a long period. But that isn't because the radiation stays in your body the whole time, it's because the damage from the radiation takes a long time to repair so it's useful mathematically to sum it up over time.

        Either way, the radiation levels have not increased 37x. The danger has not increased 37x. There's not even information (at this time) that the leak has grown at all, they're just measuring at a new spot. This would be like jumping in a pool at the shallow end and saying it's 3 feet deep, then walking to the deep end and saying the pool got deeper. It was 6 feet deep at that end before, you just didn't measure it in that spot before.

        I hope they get this problem fixed soon.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DaveGod (703167)

      Yes, the drinking-water limit isn't particularly useful, since these levels aren't being found in drinking water. As such we should be comparing to "safe" limits for the scenario (or at least levels for the "general environment*").

      I think drinking water levels however are often used - seemingly out of context - in this way because they are perceived as more reliable. People reason that much more scrutiny would be placed on whether something is safe for human consumption than for any other purpose. They the

    • by ukemike (956477) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @07:05PM (#31048620) Homepage
      The problem is that underground plumes of bad stuff spread over time. If you discover the contamination before it gets dangerous and you stop the leak it may be that the levels in water that is used by people never gets above the regulatory limit. If you let it sit it won't be long before people are drinking water with many times the the EPA limit.

      One thing that always bothers me about these environmental stories is that when some Chemical X is reported to be floating around, it's never 20% over the regulatory limit, or even twice the limit, it is always at least one order of magnitude too high. The regulatory limit may be conservative, but I really doubt it has a safety factor of 37 built in.
  • by anonieuweling (536832) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @12:39PM (#31046126)
    We have a limit, apparently, but of course we do not act in case we go over it.
    Is the limit still a limit in that case?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by HiddenCamper (811539)
      Actually they did act. They noticed the rates increasing. They added more wells and kept testing to locate the problem. They are self-policing and reporting using their corrective action process. Going over a limit will get them a hefty fine, but all things considered when a problem just pops up like this you dont know where its at and you have little control over it. They are doing the right things.
  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @12:40PM (#31046138) Journal
    Why do we Americans put up with this kind of nonsense? How can anyone phoo phoo off something as serious as tritrium in drinking water?

    As true Americans who cherish tradition, we should always take our raioactive elements in the traditional way. First mine it with coal, then burn it in a furnace, disperse it through smoke and then ingest it via the lungs. That is the American way. One second before you mod me down as a Luddite, remember I do support modern innovations, like mountain top removal and long wall mining.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Sponge Bath (413667)

      How can anyone phoo phoo...

      I wonder how Stewie Griffin would pronounce this.

    • Super Powers (Score:3, Insightful)

      by phorm (591458)

      Maybe they're just waiting for the radioactivity to reach a high enough level that it will give them super-powers. Then they can deal with this and many other injustices in the world...

  • I was under the impression that the whole purpose of testing groundwater was to find and STOP contamination. If they've repeatedly failed this test, how are they allowed to continue operations?

  • by cats-paw (34890) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @12:45PM (#31046182) Homepage

    I suppose when this sort of thing happens you'll be ok with taxpayers paying the clean-up costs ?

    I think nuclear is something we're going to have to use, but I am _extremely_ worried it's going to be another privatize the gains and socialize the losses deal.

    • by Urza9814 (883915)

      This isn't a serious problem, and taxpayers _aren't_ paying for it.

      But if it _was_ a serious problem, then yes, taxpayers should pay for it. Just like taxpayers pay for it if my house catches on fire. And taxpayers would pay for it if a wind turbine collapsed, and taypayers pay to clean up the pollution left by coal plants and coal mining. You do realize that cleaning up the acid mine drainage from coal mines is mostly paid by taxes, right?

      If it's a small leak or a small accident, then yes, the plant should

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by bill_mcgonigle (4333) *

        You do realize that cleaning up the acid mine drainage from coal mines is mostly paid by taxes, right?

        If it's a small leak or a small accident, then yes, the plant should and will pay for it. But in a serious emergency, do you really _want_ them to take care of it? The government has more training in disaster management, and they have more resources. Plus I'm not really gonna trust the people that caused the problem to fix it properly. So yes, taxes pay for disaster relief. That's the way it's always been.

  • Wait for the 3 eyed fish to show up before going in and go to sector 7g at the start.

    ---MR X

  • by Vellmont (569020) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @12:59PM (#31046284)

    Far-Right:
    There's nothing to see here, it's just those damn liberals and their whining about nuclear power. It's all perfectly safe, there's absolutely no problems whats-so-ever with this plant or any other plant. A possible indicator of other problems around the country? Pshaw.. more liberal clap-trap. We can fix all our power problems with just building a lot of nuclear plants. Waste schmaste.

    Far-Left:
    This is just PROOF that the nuclear power industry are all a bunch of bastard weasels. We ought to shut the whole shootin-match down for good. We can get all of our power from wind and solar anyway. 37 times the standard! I bet the standard is set too high anyway! These plants are all rotting from neglect, and there's probably a ton they're not telling us! I recently saw The China Syndrome and Silkwood, and let me tell you that's all just the tip of the iceberg! Chernobyl!

    I'm just really sick of the nonsense on both sides. They both insulate themselves from the other and don't want to hear any real truths from "the other side". The whole nuclear power issue is 90% a "side of the room argument" where nobody wants to be associated with an idea from "the other side". This is what needs to stop to make any progress on the whole issue.

    • by damburger (981828)
      I'm an old leftie and a fan of nuclear power, so you can't categorise it like that. However, you are right about extreme reactions. There is Tritium in the groundwater. This is bad, needs to be handled, and isn't in any way shape or form a reason not to use nuclear power.
      • by Vellmont (569020)


        I'm an old leftie and a fan of nuclear power, so you can't categorise it like that.

        All categories are wrong in some fashion. You can call it "pro-nuclear" and "anti-nuclear" if you like. The labels are irrelevant. The whole point is the insulation and people digging in their viewpoints. Being labeled a "troll" only highlights this point.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Myopic (18616)

      I was astonished the first time I realized that typical 'environmentalist' groups oppose nuclear power. That blows my mind. To this day I can't figure out how a focus on the environment would lead you *away* from nuclear power, when it is so clearly the safest way to produce abundant electricity with minimal environmental impact.

      • by Vellmont (569020)


        I was astonished the first time I realized that typical 'environmentalist' groups oppose nuclear power.

        To some degree it's an artifact of the sidedness of politics. Nuclear power is associated with nuclear weapons (right or wrong, people think of them in the same breath). Nuclear weapons are "bad" for the "the left", and "good" for "the right". Most people have no real understanding anything about nuclear power or nuclear reactions so they turn to these kind of simple associations and dig in for the long

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by dgatwood (11270)

        With modern nuclear plants, I'd agree. Unfortunately, the U.S. has no modern nuclear plants, and the existing reactors are often well past the age where any conventional plant would have been completely gutted and rebuild, but they don't do that because these things are so darn expensive and you'd never be able to get permission to start it up again once you shut it down anyway. We should be building new nuclear power plants and shutting down these fossils.

    • by bwcbwc (601780)

      Hear hear. Yes the limits are being exceeded - a lot -, but the limits have not been exceeded outside the plant perimeter (yet). No actual drinking water has been found to be contaminated. The problem is being investigated, and it looks like they are close to finding the leak. Their latest sample well came up at pretty much the concentration of the raw tritium in the plant.

      On the other hand, if they know where tritium _can_ come from, they should be able to estimate the size of the leak based on how much is

  • by Jackie_Chan_Fan (730745) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @01:06PM (#31046328)

    "Yeah, the water is 37% more deadly.... you should be fine"

    Uh thanks.

  • Where's that leak again?

  • If one person in one hundred thousand starts to glow in the dark and dies, it is considered an acceptable risk for everyone except that person. No one can prove that that cancer that killed that person was caused by the leak so they can get away with it. It is statistically insignificant. I do not like to think that manslaughter is insignificant but these people think that way.

  • by david.given (6740) <dg AT cowlark DOT com> on Saturday February 06, 2010 @01:19PM (#31046416) Homepage Journal

    ...because tritium's really expensive to make and they're wasting it.

    A few years back I bought a bunch of glow-in-the-dark keyrings [glosticks.co.uk] as stocking fillers for my family. These are little tubes containing tritium. The tritium produces very low energy beta particles, which excite phosphor on the inside of the tube, which cause them to glow. They have a half-life of 12 years, which in effect means that they glow usefully for about five or six years before they need replacing. (I should probably get them new ones.)

    Let me repeat that: it's a little glowing thing that will glow for six years, continuously. They don't need recharging, they don't need their batteries changed, they don't need exposure to sunlight. They're fantastic for safety-critical things like exit signs. My father sails, and he has his tied to the end of the emergency torch on his boat --- it means that if he needs it in a hurry in the dark, he can find it. I know a nurse who uses them to find things in bags of equipment. They're really handy.

    Naturally, they're banned in the US, because they're atomic.

    (Tritium, being hydrogen and really hard to contain, will slowly diffuse out through the walls of the glass tube and into the environment. However there's a tiny, tiny amount of the stuff, and the radioactivity they emit is so weak it won't penetrate six millimetres of air, let alone anything solid. I suppose it is possible to absorb the stuff into the body --- we are largely made of hydrogen, after all --- but the low energies, short half-life and tiny quantities means that you're probably more likely to get radiation damage from Bikini Atoll than your tritium keyring.)

    Incidentally, did you know that after the Chalk River reactor in Canada was shut down in 2009 due to overreaction, there is now a worldwide shortage of medical isotopes? There are only five reactors worldwide, sorry, four now, that produce the stuff. I wonder how many people that shutdown has killed?

    • by mobby_6kl (668092)

      The tritium keyrings look pretty cool! I'd love to order some, but does anyone have any experience with shipping these things internationally (into other EU countries, not necessarily to the US)? I'd imagine the "nucular" aspect makes it a pain in the ass to ship (or smuggle), but maybe I'm overestimating the paranoia.

      • by MoonBuggy (611105)

        They are pretty cool! I have one myself, it's pleasantly geeky and damn useful for finding my keys in the dark. The fact I carry it in my pocket makes quite a good prop for explaining why people's "OMG NUKULAR!!" reaction to news stories is mistaken, too. I very much doubt there is any issue with shipping them. The radiation doesn't penetrate the outer casing, so (externally at least) they're basically nothing more than inert lumps of plastic.

        There is some minor possibility that they could leak a minuscule

    • by MoonBuggy (611105) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @01:40PM (#31046582) Journal

      Naturally, they're banned in the US, because they're atomic.

      I'm going to have to give you a [citation needed] for that one, on the basis that United Nuclear (a US company) are still selling [unitednuclear.com] them.

      • by david.given (6740)

        I stand corrected. Thanks for the link --- now I have something to point people at (because they are very cool).

        Interestingly they're considerably cheaper here in the UK. I know the expensive part is the tritium --- they come in two brightnesses which differ only in terms of how much gas they put in. I wonder which of us is being ripped off...

        We also get them in pink, blue and orange as well as green. Green's brightest.

    • by MobyDisk (75490)

      Tritium lights are perfectly legal in the United States. Do a google search and there are lots of places that sell them in the US - they are quite common for Exit signs. WalMart was recently fined for improperly disposing of them because they use them in all their stores.

      Your quip about Chalk River is just off-topic flamebait. There's a lot of screwed-up stuff happening on that reactor, and it can't be summarized in this conversation. Suffice it to say, I work with someone who has a lot of experience in

    • Tritium is not banned in the U.S.; I have one of the tritium keychains, a tritium compass, a gun with tritium sights... I don't know, there might be something else I'm forgetting. I have some old cockpit dials that contain radium. My smoke detectors are all radioactive (americium, I think). If I wanted to, I could buy uranium ore, trinitite, and more.

      Heck, check this place out: http://unitednuclear.com/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=2_5 [unitednuclear.com]

      Note that they are an american company that sells to americans (and

    • by limaxray (1292094) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @02:04PM (#31046740) Homepage
      Any American gun owner can tell you that tritium is NOT banned in the US - tritium makes for great night sights and is a common addition for home defense weapons.
  • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @01:26PM (#31046460)

    We get far more exposure from radon outgassing from the granite countertops in our kitchens.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/24/garden/24granite.html [nytimes.com]

    Let's pay attention to something we can actually get exposed to.

    • by russotto (537200)

      We get far more exposure from radon outgassing from the granite countertops in our kitchens.

      My countertops are totally non-toxic melamine, you ignorant clod.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Well I guess we'll have to change our granite countertops to something more exotic, they were starting to look nouveau riche

      *sighs*

  • Its a hard job to set safety standards for radiation as there really is not any 100% safe level other than absolute 0.

    The standards are probably irrationally low for all practical purposes, but regardless of that, there is no dispute that the standards have already been significantly exceeded.

    If they were doing their job properly, they simply need to decide to either immediately fix the leak or shut the site down. They can review the safety standards later if they want. To do that properly would require a

  • EEEEK! GIANT ANTS! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Hasai (131313) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @05:19PM (#31047964)

    Spend your time wading in 775,000 picocuries of tritium, or spend your time downwind of a coal-fired power plant.

    Betcha I know which one will kill you first....
    ];)

  • Tritium (Score:3, Informative)

    by MrKaos (858439) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @09:54PM (#31049656) Journal

    A list of some scientific studies on the effects of tritium with references in case there is any doubt regarding Triated water's effect on living beings.

    Tritium is biologically mutagenic *because* it's a low energy emitter. This characteristic makes readily absorbed by surrounding cells. The available evidence from studies conducted journal a list of effects. From those works;

    Tritium can be inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through skin. Eating food containing 3H can be even more damaging than drinking 3H bound in water. Consequently, an estimated radiation dose based only on ingestion of tritiated water may underestimate the health effects if the person has also consumed food contaminated with tritium. (Komatsu)

    Studies indicate that lower doses of tritium can cause more cell death (Dobson, 1976), mutations (Ito) and chromosome damage (Hori) per dose than higher tritium doses. Tritium can impart damage which is two or more times greater per dose than either x-rays or gamma rays.

    (Straume) (Dobson, 1976) There is no evidence of a threshold for damage from 3H exposure; even the smallest amount of tritium can have negative health impacts. (Dobson, 1974) Organically bound tritium (tritium bound in animal or plant tissue) can stay in the body for 10 years or more.

    It's often said "of all the elements in nuclear waste tritium is one of the more harmless ones" and while it's more benign than most other radioactive effluents it's toxicity should not be under-estimated.

    Tritium can cause mutations, tumors and cell death. (Rytomaa) Tritiated water is associated with significantly decreased weight of brain and genital tract organs in mice (Torok) and can cause irreversible loss of female germ cells in both mice and monkeys even at low concentrations. (Dobson, 1979) (Laskey) Tritium from tritiated water can become incorporated into DNA, the molecular basis of heredity for living organisms. DNA is especially sensitive to radiation. (Hori) A cell's exposure to tritium bound in DNA can be even more toxic than its exposure to tritium in water. (Straume)(Carr)

    First, as an isotope of hydrogen (the cell's most ubiquitous element), tritium can be incorporated into essentially all portions of the living machinery; and it is not innocuous -- deaths have occurred in industry from occupational overexposure. R. Lowry Dobson, MD, PhD. (1979)

    References;

    Komatsu, K and Okumura, Y. Radiation Dose to Mouse Liver Cells from Ingestion of Tritiated Food or Water. Health Physics. 58. 5:625-629. 1990.

    Dobson, RL. The Toxicity of Tritium. International Atomic Energy Agency symposium, Vienna: Biological Implications of Radionuclides Released from Nuclear Industries v. 1: 203. 1979.

    Hori, TA and Nakai, S. Unusual Dose-Response of Chromosome Aberrations Induced in Human Lymphocytes by Very Low Dose Exposures to Tritium. Mutation Research. 50: 101-110. 1978.

    Straume, T and Carsten, AL.Tritium Radiobiology and Relative Biological Effectiveness. Health Physics. 65 (6) :657-672; 1993. [This special issue of Health Physics is entirely devoted to Tritium]

    Laskey, JW, et al. Some Effects of Lifetime Parental Exposure to Low Levels of Tritium on the F2 Generation. Radiation Research.56:171-179. 1973.

    Rytomaa, T, et al. Radiotoxicity of Tritium-Labelled Molecules. International Atomic Energy Agency symposium,Vienna: Biological Implications of Radionuclides Released from Nuclear Industries v. 1: 339. 1979.

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