Nuclear Energy is Bad for our Children and Our Economy
President Obama, in his State of the Union speech, called for a push to build new nuclear power plants to help serve our country’s energy needs. This is a truly unwise strategy. We’d go from the frying pan into the fire.
At the very time of the President’s speech, a group of Vermonters were out in the snow and freezing cold, calling for the state’s sole nuclear plant, the Vermont Yankee, to shut down. Their protest was ignited by revelations of rising levels of the radioactive element called tritium leaking from the plant into nearby water sources.
One of our closest friends, unfailingly honorable and intensely smart, is a nuclear engineer. He says that nuclear power can be safe if the right safeguards are put in place.
Let’s say that might be so.
But what makes anyone imagine that the right safeguards could actually be developed and then maintained, day in and day out, for decades, if not eons.
Think of the duplicity and greed of our nation’s bankers and brokers and the connivance of federal ‘regulators’ that ended in our current economic disaster. Recall the failures of our auto industry. Remember Enron, its lying top managers and the lying auditors who were supposed to be its safeguards. Why would the nuclear power industry do any different, any better? Why would the corporations and executives managing nuclear be any wiser, less greedy, more farsighted?
In fact their track record is abysmal, all the more so when you realize it’s not only money but lives that could be destroyed.
Sarah Sauer at age seven fell ill with a brain tumor. The Sauers lived close to two nuclear power plants in Grundy County, Illinois, that had leaked millions of gallons of water containing tritium into the surrounding environment. Some of it seeped into water supplies used by local residents, including the Sauers, for drinking, bathing and cooking. Exelon, the owner of the plant and our nation’s largest supplier of nuclear energy, hadn’t informed the community of the leak. When the Sauers brought Sarah home from the hospital, her mother, Cindy, learned about an out-of-court settlement between Exelon and the Illinois attorney general of charges relating to violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act dating back to 1990. Sarah’s father, a physician with degrees in engineering, set about collecting data and calculated that the rate of cancer increased 29 percent within a 15-mile radius of the two reactors, and, through a different calculation, cases of leukemia had doubled. The Sauers have moved far away from Exelon’s plants.
A National Academy of Sciences report in 1990 stated that there are no safe thresholds for exposure to radiation.
Exelon’s plant in Braceville, IL, has leaked the same radioactive material into that community at least three times. One week after the 40-year-old Oyster Creek (NJ) reactor license was extended another 20 years, plant workers discovered tritium-contaminated water in its buried pipes. At Indian Point (NY), also owned by Entergy, it was the same story; its radiated water seeps underground into the Hudson River. Investigating these leaks, New York Rep. Edward Markey discovered that there are miles and miles of buried pipes at every nuclear power facility that have never been inspected for leaks.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission does not require nuclear plant operators to do groundwater testing at their nuclear plants. It's a voluntary initiative. In fact, leaks of tritium into bodies of water and into the air around nuclear plants are commonplace nationwide.
Nor has anyone found a solution for where or how to store nuclear waste.
President Obama proposes a $54 billion subsidy for the nuclear power industry. After fifty years in operation, why does that industry need taxpayer subsidies? Why has the private capital market refused to extend loans to nuclear power plants without federal loan guarantees, and even lowered the ratings of loans that have been made? If nuclear power were a viable business, wouldn’t it be able to stand on its own by now?
It was only last year that Vermont’s nuclear power plant operator, Entergy, gave sworn testimony to the state utility regulators and the Legislature stating there were no buried pipes. Now, when the radioactive leaks surfaced, the company launched an investigation to find the source of the radioactivity. The probable source: buried pipes that the company had sworn didn't exist. Vermont’s governor now says that recent events have “raised dark clouds of doubt” about the reactor’s safety and management.
Though our nation is seeking an alternative to polluting energy sources such as oil, why chose high-cost, high risk nuclear?
How to find out more:
Nuclear Information and Resource Service: firstname.lastname@example.org
Institute for Energy & Environmental Research: IEER.org; read their report, False Promises; for their analysis of the Sauers’ exposure and radiated water in general, see www.ieer.org/comments/tritium060320.html
Union of Concerned Scientists: www.ucsusa.org/nuclear_power/
Alice is the co-author with her husband Philip of the book Poisoned Profits: The Toxic Assault on our Children. The story of Exelon and the Sauers is told in more depth in that book.