Radioactive Water Spill From Fermi 2

  • The Fermi 2 reactor, operated by DTE. (Photo courtesy of Nuclear Regulatory Commission)

Everything’s back to normal at the Fermi 2 nuclear power plant in southeast Michigan after a spill last week.

A drain valve for a filtering system failed… and 100,000 gallons of slightly radioactive cooling water overflowed a holding tank. The water contaminated the shoes and outer clothing of some plant workers, but no one was harmed.

DTE Energy owns and operates Fermi 2. Guy Cerullo is with DTE.
He says most of the water was contained inside the plant… but about 100 gallons of that water escaped through a bathroom drain into the Monroe County sewer system. He says some sewage outside the plant had trace amounts of radiation. But he says it was well below federal limits.

“There is absolutely no danger to the public or even to plant employees even who responded to the overflow. Absolutely no danger whatsoever.”

Cerullo says all of the drain valves have been replaced.

“We’re very confident that a larger amount could not escape from the site. There are all kinds of precautions in place.”

The Fermi plant had been shut down since late October for routine refueling and maintenance. The plant is back up and running now, at 60% power.

This incident at the Fermi 2 plant is considered so minor, it did not violate any federal safety laws or policies. But the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is aware of this event and NRC inspectors are following up on it.

Viktoria Mitlyng is with the NRC. DTE Energy says this release of radioactive water was tiny… and of absolutely no risk to human health. Are they right?

NRC’s preliminary report on the Fermi 2 spill


Mitlyng: Yes. This incident did not affect equipment that’s related to operating the plant safely. The radiation levels were very low in the water. Plant workers did not get exposed. There was a little bit of radiation on their shoes, but that kind of radiation cannot get inside the body. And in terms of there being a small amount of radioactivity in the sewage, that amount was below NRC’s regulatory limits.

DTE measured radioactivity of .0007 millirems in sewage a few yards from the plant. DTE says that dropped to nondetectable levels in the sewage system long before reaching populated areas. How does that level of radioactivity compare to naturally occurring background radiation we’re exposed to on a daily basis?

Mitlyng: You know, everybody gets dental x-rays, right? When you get a dental x-ray you get 2 millirems of radiation. So the amount measured in the sewer was 1/ 2,000th approximately of what you would get in a dental x-ray.

How do we know this kind of thing won’t happen again at a higher level that might be a problem for people?

Mitlyng: Fermi has not had even low-level problems or findings that NRC identified or the plant identified. So you know, the plant is operating safely, it’s operating well. We’re not guaranteed anything, I suppose.

Viktoria Mitlyng is with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Thank you.

Mitlyng: Thank you!

That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.