Nuclear Power’s Threat to Clean Water

by Jim Riccio

October 15, 2010

Shut down Vermont YankeeToday is blog action day, an annual event held every October 15 that unites the world’s bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day, and this year the topic is water.  One of many risks to clean water are nuclear power plants and the inadequate measures to protect us from their radioactive elements that can leak into our drinking water.

Last week brought more disturbing discoveries of radioactive tritium leaking into groundwater from Vermont Yankee, the aging nuclear plant in southern Vermont.  Exposure to tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen produced by nuclear power plants, presents risks of cell damage and can increase the likelihood of developing cancer.  Ingested tritium is
directly absorbed into the bloodstream, and will quickly spread to other body fluids, organs, and other tissues – it’s critical that our drinking water is protected from unsafe levels.

Jim Riccio

For Vermonters, it’s yet another sign that Entergy‘s 38 year-old plant should not be relicensed by President Obama’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission; this comes after more discoveries of tritium leaks into groundwater earlier this year, and the collapse of a cooling tower in 2007.  The plant should be closed as scheduled in 2012, and that’s why the Vermont Senate voted 26-4 in February to do just that.

The problem goes beyond Vermont though – tritium levels in underground wells at another old Entergy relic, Pilgrim nuclear plant in Massachusetts were recently found to be above standards for drinking water set by the Clean Water Act to protect people’s health.  In fact, the nuclear industry has contaminated groundwater with radioactive tritium at nuclear power plant sites all across the country.  Nuclear plants that have admitted leaking tritium into the groundwater include:

  • Braidwood, Byron, Dresden and Quad Cities in Illinois;
  • Indian Point and Fitzpatrick in New York;
  • Yankee Rowe and Pilgrim in Massachusetts;
  • Three Mile Island and Peach Bottom in Pennsylvania;
  • Callaway in Missouri
  • Catawba in South Carolina
  • Oyster Creek in New Jersey
  • Hatch in Georgia
  • Palo Verde In Arizona
  • Perry in Ohio
  • Palisades in Michigan
  • Point Beach in Wisconsin
  • Salem in Delaware
  • San Onofre in California
  • Seabrook in New Hampshire
  • Shearon Harris in North Carolina
  • Watts Bar in Tennessee
  • Wolf Creek in Kansas
  • Connecticut Yankee in Connecticut
  • Vermont Yankee in Vermont

Unfortunately, rather than hold nuclear plant owners to the terms of their licenses, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has failed to exercise its authority and instead has handed the problem of radioactive tritium leaks over to the industry lobbyists’ in a voluntary program. It’s time to shut down these unsafe and aging nuclear power plants, and embrace the clean, renewable energy revolution that can truly help solve global warming and keep our air and water clean.

— Jim

Jim Riccio

By Jim Riccio

Jim Riccio served as Greenpeace’s Nuclear Policy Analyst from 2001 to 2017 and has over two decades of nuclear activist experience. He has been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, and Boston Globe, and has appeared on ABC News, NBC News, Al Jazeera, CNN, the Discovery Channel and the History Channel.

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