Nuclear Fuel Fabrication Facility – Hopkins, South Carolina
- Leak occurred onsite in June 2018
- No current threat to public health
- Ongoing investigation continues
- Private well sampling has been conducted in Hopkins-Lower Richland communities and data is available below.
Q. What does Westinghouse do at this location?
- A. Westinghouse Electric Company owns and operates a Nuclear Fuel Fabrication Facility in Hopkins, South Carolina. Throughout the rest of this page, this facility will be referred to simply as "Westinghouse." The facility is approximately 550,000 square feet on 1,156 acres and has been in operation since 1969. This facility manufactures nuclear fuel assemblies and components. Nuclear fuel manufactured at this facility is used to generate electricity locally and throughout the United States.
Q. What happened related to a recent leak at Westinghouse in Hopkins?
- A. In July of 2018 DHEC was notified by Westinghouse that a leak had occurred at a building at the facility. Westinghouse has indicated to DHEC that the equipment was immediately shut down upon discovering the leak in June. The area was further inspected and workers discovered damage to concrete below the equipment. The leak contained hydrofluoric acid (HF) and uranyl nitrate (which is a uranium salt). The acid caused damage to a small area (about 3 inches in diameter) of the concrete floor near the leak
During the company’s initial investigation, samples of soil directly underneath the location of the leak indicated that the leaked chemicals had seeped into the soil, but had not penetrated a layer of clay located approximately 6 feet below the surface. Additional sampling is being conducted to continue to monitor the presence of the leaked chemicals.
Q. Is there any risk to the public from the recent leak?
- A. Based on current information and data received by DHEC, there is no current or immediate threat to the public from this recent release. This release is confined to a small area on a secure site. DHEC continues to oversee an investigation of this leak and will notify the public if at any time there is any potential offsite impacts to public health.
Q. What were the chemicals that leaked?
- A. The leak contained hydrofluoric acid and uranyl nitrate. Hydrofluoric acid, also known as “HF,” is a strong acid. Uranyl nitrate is a uranium salt. Because the leak is confined to a small area on a secure site, there is currently no possibility for the public to be exposed to the chemicals that leaked. DHEC is overseeing an ongoing investigation to determine whether or not any of the process fluid has the potential to impact the groundwater.
Q. Who regulates activities at this site?
- A. Operations at the facility are conducted under the oversight of a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) license. DHEC regulates any releases from the facility to the environment, for example: DHEC issues an air permit to the facility as well as a permit for discharges to waters of the state. DHEC and the company have also entered into a Voluntary Cleanup Contract to address historical contamination located on the facility’s property. Both the NRC and DHEC regulations promote safe operations of the facility and are intended to be protective of public health and the environment.
Q. What has occurred at Westinghouse since the leak?
- A. IIn order to determine the extent of the leaked material, a team of technical staff from DHEC and the company developed a soil sampling plan to test the area beneath the building where the leak occurred. The company removed a portion of the concrete floor inside the process building and tested the soil nearest to the location of the leak.
Q. Why is it taking so long to figure out if the chemicals leaked reached the groundwater?
- A. The company must take extra precautions due to the nature of the chemicals used in the process. Sampling must be done in a manner that prevents any spread of contamination. The analysis of each soil sample is time consuming and will take several weeks to complete.
Q. How fast does the groundwater move, and in what direction?
- A. Groundwater in this location moves from the site in a south-southwest direction, away from the Hopkins Community, at a speed of approximately 150 feet per year. The green arrows in the graphic below indicate the direction of groundwater flow.
Q. How is DHEC assisting the nearby community?
- A. Leaders within the Hopkins-Lower Richland community organized several public meetings and formed an oversight committee. DHEC remains in contact with several of the organizers of these community efforts to offer assistance and information.
- DHEC participated in community meetings on Monday, August 13, 2018, at 6:30 pm at the Hopkins Park Adult Activities Center (144 Hopkins Park Road) and Thursday, August 30, 2018, at 6:30 pm at the Lower Richland Sheriff’s Substation (2615 Lower Richland Blvd.). These meetings provided an opportunity for concerned citizens to ask questions about the recent leak and to hear from DHEC, Westinghouse and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
- During these community meetings, DHEC committed to testing the water quality of private wells at homes of area residents expressing concern and signing up for this service. DHEC collected samples from the private wells of 12 homes and one public water system during its initial testing. Private well testing results are available below. DHEC will use data to determine needs for additional sampling and analysis in the nearby community.
- DHEC will continue to provide updates and share information with the community.
Q. What were the results of private well sampling in the Hopkins-Lower Richland community?
- DHEC tested the water quality of 13 private wells and the Hopkins Community Water System for the following: Metals and minerals; bacteria (total coliform and E. coli); volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as petroleum products and solvents; and radioactive materials (radionuclides).
- Click below and download data tables which outline results from the 13 private wells and the Hopkins Community Water System.
- All except for one of the 13 private wells are located within the sampling area designated on the adjacent map.
- All results have been compared to the available Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Primary and Secondary Drinking Water Standards and Action Levels.
- The general chemistry, metals and minerals of well water were good and typical for unimpacted wells in this area of the state.
- None of the 54 VOCs tested for in the sampling were detected.
- Radionuclides that were detected in samples for gross alpha, gross beta, radium-226, radium-228, total uranium and/or uranium-238 could be naturally occurring and are typical for unimpacted wells in this area of the state.
- One of the samples had a total radium higher than the level of the EPA standard of 5 picocuries per Liter (pCi/L). This one sample also had a low level detection of gross alpha activity and gross beta activity, measuring radioactive particles emitted as radionuclides decay. DHEC will return for quarterly samples at the one location that had a total radium in excess of the EPA standard and gross alpha activity and gross beta activity detected.
Q. What are the next steps?
- A. DHEC is coordinating with the NRC and actively overseeing the on-site investigation at Westinghouse. Data will guide decisions moving forward related to cleaning up soil as well as the need for any additional groundwater monitoring at this site.
- Results of the private well samplings will guide decisions on any additional testing in the nearby community.
This page will be updated with additional data and information as it becomes available.
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