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Residents express anger, distrust towards Westinghouse after uranium leak

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WACH) -- It was a full house Monday evening as Hopkins residents confronted Westinghouse officials after a uranium leak last month.

"You've been here since 1967, Westinghouse," said one woman, pointing her finger at representatives. "There's always something going on over there."

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control joined with Westinghouse officials and Lower Richland lawmakers to address public concerns over a uranium leak that happened in early July.

Employees with the plant discovered that there was a uranium spill that had seeped through the facility's flooring into the clay beneath.

Many residents had concerns that it could affect the nearby groundwater, thereby raising the uranium levels of the drinking supply of hundreds of nearby residents.

Officials with Westinghouse said their analyses show that the leak would have no direct impact to the nearby water supply, and stated that employees reported the spill to DHEC as soon as possible mostly as a precaution.

However, Michael Annacone, a plant manager at Westinghouse, says that the leak -- and the level of communication to the public thereafter -- was unacceptable.

"And, again, we've taken immediate actions, said Annacone. "We've notified DHEC and NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) and we will continue to work closely with them to make sure they are satisfied, just like we have to satisfy ourselves, that we have done the right things."

One of those changes was to establish a customer advisory board that officials encouraged those attending the meeting to sign up for.

But many in the audience remained unsatisfied and stood in line during the question-and-answer portion of the meeting to express their frustrations.

Tom Clements, with the local chapter of the environmental group Friends of the Earth, questioned the exact levels that were spilled.

"The question still hangs: how much material leaked and how much uranium leaked?" said Clements. "Did anybody hear that tonight?"

A resounding no echoed through the crowd.

Meanwhile, several audience members claiming to be ex-employees commented on the working conditions of those at the plant.

"Back in 2010, I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma," said one woman, who claimed to have worked with Westinghouse. "Blood cancer. I think only by the grace of God that I'm here today. It's like, when I go get my treatment, I'm waiting to see the next Westinghouse employee come in."

Others inquired as to whether Westinghouse would test the nearby wells to determine if dangerous levels of uranium are in the supply.

After Westinghouse officials initially intimated that there would be no need for those tests to be conducted, DHEC officials later encouraged residents to sign up for the testing if they felt their wells were affected.

Another public meeting is being set up for the end of this month. Meanwhile, Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials say the public can expect a comprehensive report of the incident to be released by September 12th.




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