LESSONS FROM FUKUSHIMAby Barbara Warren, MD, MPH on Feb. 07, 2012, under Uncategorized
The Arizona PIRG Education Fund just made a major Press Release in January of this year called “Too Close to Home“. This major review of Nuclear Power and the Threat to Drinking Water is a sobering reminder of the many concerns we should all have about our 104 aging nuclear power facilities in the United States and the risks that they pose to our populations all over this country. The study reviews the dire findings of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster almost a year ago; and it discusses our risks and ill preparedness in this country related to our own nuclear power facilities. There is a lot to think about.
We have 104 nuclear power plants with over 50% being over 30 years old. These plants are initially licensed to be in use for 40 years. Utilities across the nation have been applying to extend licenses to 60 total years. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is acting as a rubber stamp commission and has not turned down one extension so far. As nuclear facilities age, leaks become more common. The report cited above notes that 75% of our power plants have been reported to be leaking tritium through mechanisms that are very difficult to detect and the leaks may go on for some time before discovered. Tritium is a radioactive form of hydrogen that is produced in reactors and in nuclear fuel processing. It causes cancer and genetic mutations resulting in birth defects. Tritium finds its way into our water tables and hence into drinking water.
The EPA and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission say that populations are at risk of contamination from serious accidents and from leakage into the water table if they live within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant. In fact, 49 million Americans live within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant in 35 states. Of these, 21 million have their drinking water sources within these 50 miles from a nuclear power plant. The most glaring example of such a risk is that New York City, with 11 million people, is within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant and their drinking water is within that range also.
In the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, radioactive particles traveled well beyond the 50 mile high risk radius all the way to Tokyo, 130 miles away, to contaminate vegetable greens, milk and other foods. The water closer to the power plant is contaminated with not only tritium, but with radioactive cesium-37 and strontium-90; and plutonium-139 is found distributed around the territory of the plant. The half lives of cesium and strontium are about 30 years and the plutonium has a half of life (the time after which only half of the substance has decayed) of 24,000 years! These contaminants render whole communities and regions uninhabitable forever from our perspectives. All of them cause many kinds of cancer, leukemia, birth defects and other extreme health problems.
So we are already seeing contamination of our water by tritium; we have 3 nuclear power plants sitting on major earthquake faults and near very large cities; 6 of our reactors are the same as that in the Fukushima disaster (the General Electric Mark 1); and our reactors are old and becoming more and more unsafe. What to do?
The answers are definitely not to build new reactors at enormous costs and financial risks to taxpayers. Yes, WE pay those loan guarantees and subsidies out of our taxes. Here is what needs to be done immediately:
- Regular testing of all groundwater for tritium and other possible leaks within 50 mile radii of all nuclear power plants
- Comprehensive safety reviews of our nuclear power plants – now and regularly
- Immediate change, replacement or repair of any unsafe conditions or practices found in safety reviews by neutral and unbiased observers and inspectors.
- Retirement of all existing nuclear power plants at the end of their current operating system licenses. No extensions of operating licenses beyond the life of the reactor.
- Abandon all plans for new nuclear power plants
- Replace all existing power plants at the end of their current operating licenses with clean, renewable energy sources like solar and wind power and with much more energy efficiency practices.
- Do NOT make plans to start moving nuclear waste products and fuel rods around the country for storage in places where the wastes can leak into the water tables and transportation can put us all at risk of life threatening and community threatening accidents. We need to keep spent fuel in hardened on-site storage at the plant site where it is produced for about 100 years, then ship these heavy units off to permanent storage.
Remember, Plutonium is Forever!