The Oyster Creek Generating Station was called the "highest priority" when it came to resolving leaks from buried pipes by its parent company at a meeting before federal regulatory officials on Thursday.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission asked Exelon, the company that owns and operates the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant, to discuss issues with leaks found in buried pipes around the plant and what the company was doing to resolve these issues. The meeting was held Thursday at the NRC's headquarters in Maryland.

The meeting was prompted by leaks that were identified at the plant in April and August. The leak in April was identified within a week of the plant's operating license being renewed for another 20 years.

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The leaks contained tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen. The level of tritium found in the standing water where the leak was located was not enough to pose a threat to public or employee health or safety, according to officials from the NRC.

The NRC also said that there was no groundwater contamination as a result of the leaks.

Exelon is spending $7.5 million to replace 25 areas of piping around Oyster Creek and move those pipes either above ground or into vaults where they can be monitored more closely for corrosion that could result in leaks, according to David Benson, a spokesman for Oyster Creek.

"This is a commitment to ourselves," Benson said.

Oyster Creek should have the 25 areas of buried pipes replaced before the end of 2010, he said.

Benson said the meeting was an opportunity to share information about buried-pipe issues with the NRC so that other plants across the country could learn from the issues faced at Oyster Creek.

However, just raising the pipes above ground is not enough, and NRC officials at the meeting said that Exelon needs to figure out better ways of monitoring the pipes above and below ground to avoid any further issues.

"There's still more work to be done," said Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the NRC. "And that's on our part as well."

Sheehan said that the NRC needs to address its rules and regulations for all nuclear plants so that appropriate actions are taken in the event of a leak or other piping issue.

Even after Thursday's meeting, some environmental groups still question whether Exelon is capable of taking the appropriate actions in the event of future leaks or other problems.

"It seems the only time Exelon can find a leak is when they step into a puddle," said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

Contact Ben Leach:

609-272-7261

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