May 25, 2009 | Mark Paradies

Monday Accident and Lessons Learned: How to Write so that a Minor Incident Sounds Like a Disaster

I saw an article on-line that is a textbook case of how to make what is probably a minor environmental release sound like a major environmental accident.

Here’s the article from the Ashbury Park Press (written by Todd Bates):

Extent of Tritium Leaks Still Unknown

Let’s start will the title of the article. Yes, it is true that the extent of the leak is “still unknown” but the extent of the contamination is fairly well known. In the fourth to the last sentence in the article, it says:

Exelon expects to complete a ‘root cause analysis”
of the tritium issue by June 19, accordng to Sheehan.

So, perhaps the headline should have read:

Root Cause Analysis of Tritium Leak 1/2 Done

But that wouldn’t sound near as dire or exciting – no “unknown”.

The article also starts with quotes from antinuclear group spokes-persons and residents (2 miles away) who are scared. No one explains how the groundwater that is fairly localized is going to spread 2 miles to the man’s well.

The article does provide testing results that show (as far as I can tell) that as the Tritium leakage spreads underground, it is being diluted to levels well below the EPA limits for groundwater. Just plot the contamination yourself on the map at:

http://www.state.nj.us/dep/rpp/bne/occst.pdf

Here are the contamination levels (from the article):

Well MW-15K-1A: 5.3 million picocuries per liter of tritium — 265 times higher than the government limit of 20,000. A picocurie is a measure of radioactivity.

Well MW-50: 2.9 million picocuries per liter.

Well MW-51: 4.5 million picocuries per liter.

Well MW-52: Tritium not detected.

Well MW-53: 15,100 picocuries per liter.

Well MW-54: 9,500 picocuries per liter.

So perhaps the headline should have read:

Tritium Leak Poses No Threat to Plant’s Neighbors

Finally, at the very end of the article are these three sentences:

Exelon will work with the state and the NRC to “”determine the best course of action to take” said David Benson, Oyster Creek spokesman.

NRC and state Department of Environmental Protection officials are at the plant daily, Benso said.

“Oyster Creek is a good corporate neighbor, and we want to continue working with the state ust to make sure that this is done correctly,” he said.

Hmmm… Sounds like they are making a good faith effort to clean up a release from an accidental radioactive spill that is contained on-site and is no danger to the community.

Perhaps the headline should have read:

Anti-Nuclear Groups Try to Get Community Worked Up About Minor Incident

By the way, Exelon is a TapRooT® User, therefore I have confidence they will find and fix the root causes of this spill.

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