PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University has reported to the state health department and federal nuclear regulatory officials that low levels of radioactive waste solutions have leaked from a broken sewer pipe near the university’s Nuclear Radiation Center.
The leak was detected Wednesday when a reactor technician saw a small stream of water seeping from an embankment about 30 feet from the reactor building. The source of the water was determined and the leak stopped. Detector readings showed the presence of low level radiation.
The release poses no threat to the environment or individuals working at the radiation center or passing the site, said Dwight Hagihara, director of WSU Environmental Health and Safety Services.
The radioactivity comes from solutions containing low level radioactive isotopes used by plant and animal scientists to conduct research on biological systems. The solutions are collected by radiation safety technicians and, in accordance with practices approved by the state health department, flushed into the university’s sanitary sewer system. The diluted solutions are eventually processed by the city sewage treatment plant.
Radiation safety workers are removing contaminated dirt at the point of the release and putting it in plastic bags which will be sent to an approved disposal site.
Repair or replacement of the clay sewer line will be completed as soon as possible, Hagihara said. The cause of the break in the line is undetermined.
Operations of the reactor were temporarily suspended while crews were determining the source of the leak and making temporary repairs.
The research reactor, opened in 1961, is one of the few university facilities of its kind in the country. It produces the radioactive isotopes used by scientists and conducts sample analysis.