Bags of Waste from Nuclear Power Plant Found in Landfill

March 15, 2002
The luck of the Irish wasn't with the Limerick nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania when five bags of radioactive waste were found at a local landfill.

The luck of the Irish wasn''t with the Limerick nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania when five bags of slightly radioactive waste were found earlier this week at the Pottstown Landfill in West Pottsgrove Township, Pa.

Joseph Feola, director of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection''s (DEP) Southeast Region, said the waste presented no health hazard to workers or the public.

The DEP reports the bags contained items such as plastic tape and gloves from the Limerick plant that are required to be disposed of in a low-level radioactive waste facility, but were mistakenly brought to the landfill. Monitoring by DEP staff indicated that the highest radiation level from any of the bags was 0.35 millirem per hour (mrem/hr), which is significantly less than the 10 millirem per hour (mrem/hr) a person would receive from one chest x-ray.

"Although the level of radiation from these bags was not a health threat, we do not allow low-level radioactive waste at Pennsylvania landfills," Feola said. "As a result of this incident, the Limerick plant has tightened its waste-handling procedures to double-check all trash shipments going out of the plant. This will be accomplished by not allowing any unscheduled trash pick- ups at the plant, and by having plant radiation control staff check and sign- off on all trash trucks leaving the site."

He added the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has primary jurisdiction in this case, but said DEP is working with the commission to determine how the waste could have been taken from the plant in its regular trash. Pottstown Landfill and Exelon Energy, which operates Limerick, are cooperating fully.

The error came to light when a landfill employee noticed five yellow bags, the color used to identify low-level radioactive waste from a nuclear power plant, being dumped from a trash truck along with other garbage. The employee immediately halted the dumping, inspected the bags and saw the caution symbol for radioactive material.

Pottstown Landfill officials then performed a radiation survey, moved the bags to a separate area of the landfill, and contacted Exelon Energy, DEP and NRC.

"Radiation protection experts from DEP were on the scene to detect any radiation hazard from the bags and begin the investigation," Feola said. "When we resurveyed the area where the bags were found, it was determined that no hazard existed. The bags were placed inside another bag for greater protection and returned to the Limerick plant."

by Sandy Smith ([email protected])

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Adrienne Selko, Senior Editor: In addition to her roles with EHS Today and the Safety Leadership Conference, Adrienne is also a senior editor at IndustryWeek and has written about many topics, with her current focus on workforce development strategies. She is also a senior editor at Material Handling & Logistics. Previously she was in corporate communications at a medical manufacturing company as well as a large regional bank. She is the author of Do I Have to Wear Garlic Around My Neck?, which made the Cleveland Plain Dealer's best sellers list.

Nicole Stempak, Managing Editor:  Nicole Stempak is managing editor of EHS Today and conference content manager of the Safety Leadership Conference.

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