CHICAGO – In response to a series of leaks of water contaminated by radioactive tritium from the Dresden, Braidwood and Byron nuclear power plants, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich signed a new law today requiring plants to report releases of radioactive contaminants in to the soil, surface water or ground water to the state of Illinois.
Before House Bill 1620, nuclear facilities in Illinois were only required to report releases to the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), and then only when the release was at a high concentration. After learning about the releases from Exelon’s Dresden, Braidwood and Byron plans, Rep. Careen Gordon (D-Coal City) and Sen. Gary Dahl (R-Peru) introduced House Bill 1620 requiring the notification to the state.
“People should not be afraid to drink water from their faucet or give their children a bath,” said Governor Blagojevich. “This new reporting requirement will give people the information they deserve to know about whether the water they use is safe.”
The owner and operator of the plants, Exelon Nuclear, failed to report the release to State officials in a timely manner. While the levels of tritium found in the groundwater was relatively low, and did not pose a health risk, groundwater was contaminated, which violates Illinois’ groundwater protections laws.
The state became aware of the spills only after being informed by local officials near the Exelon Braidwood nuclear facility. After that, information about additional spills at the Braidwood plant and other nuclear facilities was revealed.
“I have a lot of concerned people in my district who have been questioning whether or not Illinois’ nuclear plants have been observing the necessary level of safety, and are calling on the state to more closely regulate these facilities,” said Sen. Dahl. “I think this new law will not only alleviate some of their concerns, but also guarantee that the utmost precaution is being taken at the state’s nuclear facilities.”
"For too long, nuclear power plants have been able to control how, when and if they were held accountable for their effects on public health," said Rep. Gordon. "This new law raises our public health standards. Every Illinois resident should have access to this critical information so that they can make informed decisions about their family's health, property and communities."
While the leaks encountered at Braidwood did not constitute an immediate threat to human health, the long-term effects of radioactive contamination in the surrounding groundwater and soil could ultimately create an environmental hazard to the residents nearby.
“The people of Illinois have the right to know if there are potentially harmful substances being released in their own communities,” said IEPA Director Doug Scott. “This legislation will ensure that companies make a conscious decision to notify public officials, take corrective measures and inform the community of the accident immediately.”
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) sent Exelon Nuclear Violation Notices, which specifically identified violations of state environmental regulations relating to the impairment of resource groundwater.
The bill requires nuclear power plants to notify the state of any unpermitted releases of radioactive materials into the groundwater, surface water, or soil to the IEPA and Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) within 24 hours. The bill also requires that IEPA and IEMA will conduct quarterly inspections at each of the State’s six nuclear power plants (Braidwood, Byron, Clinton, Cordova, Dresden, and La Salle).
The bill requires IEMA to draft rules specifying requirements for detecting and reporting unpermitted radioactive releases. These rules may allow power plant operators to self-inspect in lieu of inspections by the Agency.
House Bill 1620 is effective immediately.