More than two weeks after a minor leak of "slightly radioactive water" was reported at Penn State's Breazeale nuclear reactor on Hastings Road, the reactor is still leaking, a university spokeswoman said yesterday.
Authorities discovered the leak during a routine check of the pool water levels that naturally decrease with evaporation.
Officials drained the south end of the reactor pool into a holding tank two weeks ago to inspect possible sources of the leak, public information manager Vicki Fong said. However, the pool continues to leak at a rate of about 13 gallons per hour. Two weeks ago, the pool was leaking at a rate of 16 gallons an hour, according to live.psu.edu. The reactor holds 71,000 gallons of water.
"There was a slight -- but only a slight -- decrease in leakage," Fong said. "I think that tells us that we do need to get the repairs going as soon as possible."
Officials have now secured a contractor to do long-term repairs on the reactor, said Bill Dreibelbis, manager of health and environmental programs at Penn State. The contractor has experience working in nuclear facilities and will work on both the north and south ends of the reactor pool.
Dreibelbis said the leak is not harmful to the Penn State community or the people in the Radiation Science and Engineering Center.
"As a precaution, we've taken a water sample," Fong said. "We're taking the usual precautions."
The sample, taken from test wells -- which are separate from drinking wells -- was sent to an independent laboratory to test for anything unusual, Fong said. The test results have shown the water to be "significantly below federal drinking water standards," according to a press release.
"It's not considered a health risk at all at this point," Dreibelbis said, adding that it won't become a health risk because of the low radiation levels. "The radiation level is just above the drinking water standard. By the time it would get to any water table, it would not even be a measurable quantity [of radiation] above regular water," he said.
No estimate of total leakage is available, he added.
"The leak is not considered a large leak," Dreibelbis said. "It's still something that needs to be corrected."
Dreibelbis said the pool was sealed and coated about 30 years ago for regular maintenance.
"It's an operational issue, but it's not a health issue," Dreibelbis said.
Fong said fixing the reactor is a priority.
"Right now, the reactor is still closed, but classroom instruction and non-reactor research activities are continuing," she said.
The reactor is the longest operating licensed one in the country; it opened in 1955 under U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower's "Atoms for Peace" program to be a learning tool for nuclear technology.
By 1995, the reactor had hosted more than 100,000 visitors.
Following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission deemed it "at risk," despite its small size. However, Penn State officials have consistently emphasized its safety.