A "minor" amount of radioactivity was released into the air and the James River after a fire Saturday in a storage building at the Virginia Electric and Power company's Surry nuclear plant, utility officials said yesterday.
Vepco spokesman Dennis Hedgepeth said there was no danger from the radioactive release, which was "less than 1 percent" of the maximum level of such releases permitted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Hedgepeth said that as the stored materials with low levels of contamination burned, some radioactive particles rose into the atmosphere and were released into the river in water used to fight the fire.
The storage facility was discovered burning Saturday evening and the fire was extinguished quickly, according to Hedgepeth. The facility, a one-story cinder block building, is separate from the domes that hold the nuclear reactors and other operating parts of the plant, which is about 50 miles southeast of Richmond.
The cause of the fire was being investigated yesterday, but Hedgepeth said it appeared to be related to to an electrical drying heater inside the building. The building was used to store materials with "low-level contamination," including parts left over from a steam generator replacement project, he said. Some of the parts were being decontaminated for reuse and others were awaiting shipment to a permanent waste disposal facility, he said.
Some of the water used in fighting the fire become slightly contaminated and emptied into a drain that leads into the river, Hedgepeth said.
He said the radioactivity released into the air and water did not constitute any danger to the public health or safety. The airborne contamination was .0025 percent of the level allowed by the NRC and the water contamination was .02 percent, according to Hedgepeth.
The appropriate federal, state and county officials were notified of the fire, as required when any "unusual event" occurs at a nuclear power plant, he said.
There were no injuries in the fire.