Sunday, January 21, 2007

Premeditated Random Murder

First, I'd like to thank Sally for this article...she's very plugged in to the efforts in Vermont to shut down another delapidated and failing Entergy nuclear reactor known as Vermont Yankee. We are pleased to welcome her aboard here at the Green Nuclear Butterfly.

Her first contribution is a long one, but well worth the read. In many ways, it shows the callous attitude of both the NRC and nuclear industry in wrongfully moving risk evaluation into a mode of cost benefit analysis, wherein the cost to the licensee is weighed against the ills to society, or more specifically the ills to the communities being forced to host these ticking time bombs. Bottom make nuclear affordable to investors, the NRC has allowed safety to take a second or even third seat to licensee cost considerations. Acceptable deaths attributed to a plant might be fine for Entergy, but are not acceptable to the host communities.

Premeditated Random Murder


I would like to share some thoughts and an article on the impossibility of containing nuclear pollution, which is at the core of the nuclear controversy.

It is utterly impossible to contain 100% of the radioactive toxins produced in a nuclear reactor, whether under normal operations or during unplanned "burps" or accidental releases. There is no safe level of radiation exposure. Dr. John Gofman, a pre-eminent Manhattan Project nuclear scientist and medical physician pointed this out in 1979, in his excellent and still very timely book IRREVY, AN IRREVERENT ILLUSTRATED VIEW OF NUCLEAR POWER. In the course of his scientific career, Gofman came to believe that commercial nuclear power was no less than "premeditated random murder" since the monstrous amounts of pollution reactors generate contain the longest lived and deadliest toxins not only to man but to future generations of humans and other living beings, and are virtually impossible to contain. Back in 1979 Gofman wrote that "Every responsible organization studying radiation injury now holds that cancer, leukemia, and genetic damage must be considered to be essentially proportional to dose, down to the very lowest radiation doses." After excruciating feet dragging, The National Academy of Science's BEIR VII Committee confirmed this only last year. Gofman states, "In one year of operation , a 1000-megawatt nuclear power plant generates fission products (like Strontium-90 and Cesium 137) in a quantity equal to what is produced by the explosion of 23 megatons of nuclear fission bombs--or more than one thousand bombs of the Hiroshima-size." Any leakage of fission products, noble gases, or particulates from a nuclear reactor will translate into leukemias, solid cancers, and genetic damage if encountered by human beings. In this context, we face a fight to free Vermont from the yoke of the nuclear pollution industry. And we have a steep road ahead.

By way of illustration....First, we face a lack of general awareness, second, a lack of a culture of radiation protection in Vermont. In addition to the storage of over 25 million curies of radioactive Cesium in the seven story-high, unprotected spent fuel pool (over 12,000 Hiroshimas), our local reactor, Entergy Vermont Yankee (ENVY--one of the seven deadly sins) is unmonitored and untested as far as Tritium leaks are concerned. Vermont's original (circa 1971) Public Service Board orders on radiation protection specified radioisotope monitoring BEFORE DILUTION. The VDOH monitors Tritium not BEFORE dilution, in groundwater wells on the reactor site, but AFTER any Tritium in the groundwater is majorly diluted by 16,000 cubic feet per second on average of Connecticut River Water coming down from the Connecticut Lakes 200 miles north at the headwaters in New Hampshire. No one knows whether ENVY leaks Tritium, no one can bat an eye.

Drinking water at the Vernon School, across the street from the reactor and just a thousand yards away is not tested for Tritium. At a NRC meeting regarding ENVY's 20% uprate a few years ago, my ancient parents who trekked over the mountains for the meeting just for the amusement of hearing the suits lie, were shocked to find a sign on the drinking fountain: Do not drink the water. When I enquired with the VT Dept. of Health Radiological Division, I was told that they thought the Vernon School water had Uranium in it. Uranium! Asked about the high radiation readings inside the school of 19.4 mrem, just .6 mrem under the FENCELINE LIMIT, DOH employees Carla White and Larry Crist testified before the Vermont Public Service Board that they thought it was Radon. They were measuring gamma radiation. Radon is an alpha emitter. When asked about this, they said some of the Radon daughter-products were gamma emitters. To have that much gamma from a Radon daughter, you had to have one whopping Radon problem in the school. Asked if they tested for Radon, these public servants said "No, that's done by another department at the VT Dept. of Health." Asked if they had informed the Radon department, they said "No that is up to the town." Asked if they had informed the town, they said "Well, No, they hadn't." And there they are, within spitting distance of the reactor.

Well water from the house nearest (actually, AT) the "limiting location" at the ENVY boundary, (the hottest spot on the perimeter) is not tested for Tritium. It would be, according to the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards, the recipient of 500 Roentgens of lethal N-16 shine within 15 minutes, in the event of a design basis accident. That is enough radiation to melt eyeballs.

The VDOH and Agency of Nat Resources permit ENVY to dump radioactive septic sludge on fields on site. The entire alphabet of fission products and radioisotopes present in this sludge make it too hot to send to commercial septic haulers. IN ORDER TO SAVE MONEY, ENVY was granted permission to spread the sludge on-site, on the surface, on fields next to the CT River, saving them the cost of shipping it out with their "low-level" waste to Barnwell, SC. The septic waste contains toxic radionuclides. These may wash into the river in downpours, or percolate into the soil, attach to colloidal soil particles and migrate into the ground water and the river. As far as I can tell, there are no onsite groundwater wells monitoring where, or how fast, this stuff migrates.

ENVY also received permission from the NRC to stockpile 150 cu. meters per year of radioactive contaminated soil onsite, in unlined, uncovered, piles. That's about eight huge dumptruck loads per year. Where the contamination comes from, they don't say. Certainly not from the reactor, which they claim is clean and emits virtually nothing.

The following lengthy article from Riverkeeper, which is a must read for all who care about environmental and social justice, illustrates the human cost of these reactor leaks, once they are REVEALED to their communities. How many more communities are unaware of their danger, thanks to lax oversight by the NRC and complicit and irresponsible state Departments of Health who look in the wrong places or use the wrong assays for radioactive pollutants?

Civic Solutions
The story of Braidwood highlights how a corporation, aided by the federal agency charged with regulating it, can elude responsibility for serious safety problems. It also exemplifies the strength and unity of a community when threatened. Godley, Braidwood and Wilmington citizens, who would never characterize themselves as “activists,” came together in a time of uncertainty and forced their elected representatives – from the local to state to federal levels – to pay attention and act to protect their community. Until residents stood up and recognized their important role in the democratic process, repeated assaults on their environment fell through the cracks of federal and state agencies.

Invisible Poisons
By Lisa Rainwater, Riverkeeper

Experts estimate that a quarter of the nation’s 65 reactor sites have radioactive leaks. In many instances they go undetected for long periods of time. Local elected officials and the public are kept in the dark even longer. Regardless of your view on the merits or shortcomings of nuclear power with respect to national energy policy, the immediate threat of radioactive leaks from existing nuclear power plants is an ongoing, increasing problem that cannot be ignored.

Radioactive waste created as a byproduct of generating electricity at nuclear power plants remains deadly for up to 300,000 years. There are 50,000 tons of this waste in spent fuel pools and dry casks at commercial nuclear power plants across the United States. The federal government has yet to find a long-term way to deal with this radioactive waste.

In the last decade, numerous U.S. nuclear power plants have reported radioactive leaks into groundwater, public waterways and the drinking water of local communities. More than half of these leaks have occurred since 2005. These are invisible poisons that cannot be detected by sight, smell or taste. They are also some of the most dangerous toxins known to mankind. Yet there is no law or regulation requiring state or local notification of “unplanned” spills or leaks at nuclear power plants. Local officials and the public must rely on the openness and integrity of nuclear power plant operators and government officials to be kept informed of such leaks.

The response from government and the corporate world continues to be consistent and routine: “There is no threat to public health and safety.” Such “no threat” statements offer little reassurance to the people living next to the Braidwood nuclear plant located 60 miles south of Chicago. They’ve been on bottled water since March 2006 due to a six million gallon leak of radioactive tritium into their groundwater over the course of a decade.

The health impacts and psychological effects of radioactive waste leaking from a nuclear power plant can be daunting to nearby communities. It can also be a call to action. Just ask the people living near the Braidwood nuclear facility.

Welcome To Godley
A hazy, Midwestern summer sky hung low with rain, as I drove out of Chicago on a humid July day to meet with residents living near the Braidwood nuclear power plant in Will County, Illinois. My route brought me through the city, past suburban box stores and strip malls and finally to the local charm of small bedroom communities an hour south of the third largest city in the United States.

Several of these small communities dot a contaminated landscape, a landscape that is polluted with radioactive tritium. The communities of Godley, Braidwood and Wilmington have been most directly affected by the six million gallon tritium spill that began to flow silently into the Kankakee River and groundwater nearly a decade ago. Yet until 2005, the communities had no idea that they were drinking from potentially contaminated wells and fishing in heavily polluted waters. They received no warnings from Exelon, the owner and operator of the two-unit Braidwood nuclear power facility, or from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the federal agency charged with “protecting public health and safety through regulation of nuclear power.”

Since the discovery of the radioactive contamination, this blue-collar community has been trying to force the corporation and federal government to face the issue head-on and to sort out the details of the problem. Exelon, the country’s largest nuclear power corporation, owns the two Braidwood reactors capable of generating 2,400 megawatts of electricity. Braidwood is built on 4,000 acres of land and is separated from neighboring communities by a series of interconnected ditches that serve as troughs to collect effluent and plant runoff. Under the ground, miles of pipes – blowout lines – run in an interconnected maze toward the Kankakee River, carrying legal and illegal radioactive discharge to the 90-mile waterway.

A sea of day lilies greets visitors to the Godley Park District, which lies a short distance from Braidwood and its troughs. The facility is a recreation center for the communities around the plant. Immaculate and well maintained, it signifies the sense of pride shared by staff and area residents in their community. In a small alcove along a corridor stands a water fountain, a typical fixture in most public places in the Midwest, but this one stands dry, a constant reminder that this community has lost one of its most basic needs and rights: safe, clean potable water.

It has been a whirlwind year for residents of this rural community. In December 2005, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission officially notified the Godley community that Exelon had released more than six million gallons of tritium from the Braidwood plant into the Kankakee River and into groundwater. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission also notified the community that tritium had been found in one of the private wells used for drinking water. Exelon and federal officials had known about the illegal leak for nearly a decade, but only released information to the public after a community drinking water well tested positive for tritium. Godley was thrust into the national spotlight as the poster child community for what can go wrong at a nuclear power plant and with the government agencies that regulate it.

Tritium is a radioactive isotope that when inhaled, ingested or absorbed by the skin can cause cancer, birth defects, miscarriages and genetic damage. It is a by-product of nuclear power found in the water used to cool the reactor and water used to cool spent fuel rods.

At the moment there is less focus on the ecological impacts to the Kankakee River than with the potential health effects on the human population that may have been exposed to tritiated water for nearly ten years. Now, as a protective measure, the town is on bottled water – 20 gallons a week per household, complements of Exelon. The bottled water, however, cannot replace what was lost. Twenty gallons is not nearly enough to both drink, cook with and bathe in so, as one resident explained, “We just jump in the shower quickly, and jump back out.”

“Water is such a basic need. Letting anything degrade it – that is just wrong,” explains Joe Cosgrove, the mild-natured Parks Director who has become nuclear watchdog, mediator, confidant, researcher and beacon of light for the residents of Godley. “In our community we weren’t activists. We were just concerned for our safety. I believe it [Braidwood nuclear facility] could be run safe,” he declares, still holding out optimism for a situation that only seems to worsen with each news release from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The NRC Safety Dance
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is the federal agency charged with overseeing the commercial nuclear power industry and the proper handling and storage of radioactive waste produced at nuclear power plants. The Atomic Energy Commission previously held this job. But in the 1960s concerns grew over the conflict in the agency’s mission of promoting nuclear power and regulating the nuclear industry to protect public health and safety. Congress responded to this dangerous contradiction by abolishing the Atomic Energy Commission and creating the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in January 1975.

In recent years, members of Congress, two former commissioners and national nuclear watchdog groups have raised concerns that the Commission has embarked on a similar path that its predecessor did three decades ago. And with what’s been characterized as a ‘nuclear renaissance’ in the U.S. on the horizon, the Commission could find itself in a precarious safety dance rife with conflicts of interest.

The latest concerns revolve around the fact that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission withheld information about the tritium leaks at Braidwood for nearly a decade and that it has withheld similar knowledge from local officials and the public at other sites as well. The people living near Braidwood are hardworking, family-oriented, church-going folk striving to give their children better lives than they had growing up. Their lives are severely impacted by a massive leak of a colorless, odorless radioactive poison, a federal agency that failed to notify them promptly and a nuclear power corporation whose deep pockets extend to political candidates, but not to the communities they poison.

Braidwood is currently the only nuclear community forced to drink bottled water due to tritium leaks, but such leaks at U.S. nuclear plants are on the rise. And there is growing concern that other communities are not being informed about what’s going on at their nuclear plant. Case in point: Indian Point in Buchanan, New York.

Secret Leaks
Nearly a month passed before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission notified elected officials and the public of a tritium leak discovered at the Indian Point nuclear power in August 2005. Unlike Braidwood, the Indian Point leak does not stem from two or three major radioactive spills, but rather a slow, persistent leak containing a cocktail of deadly radioactive isotopes, including tritium, strontium-90 and cesium-137. No one knows for sure how long it has been leaking (estimates range from a few years to a decade), from where it’s leaking (though definitively from at least one spent fuel storage pool) or at what volume. It is known that a large radioactive plume is currently migrating through the groundwater under the plant, but its size, depth and migration pattern are still unknown. In 2006, the public was informed that the radioactive leak is now more than likely seeping into the Hudson River, a source of drinking water for towns in the Hudson Valley and, in the event of a severe drought, for New York City.

Situated on the banks of the Hudson River, 24 miles north of New York City, Indian Point has been under public and political scrutiny since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Led by environmental and public health groups, and a large bipartisan coalition of federal, state and local elected officials, safety, security and emergency planning issues have been at the forefront of efforts to shut the plant down. Now that the plant is leaking radioactive poisons into the environment, public concern has increased further. At a Nuclear Regulatory Commission public hearing in March 2005, more than 500 local residents showed up to voice their concerns over the safety of the plant. In April 2006, Riverkeeper filed a Notice of Intent to Sue the plant’s owner for the leak. The owner, Entergy Nuclear Northeast, is a subsidiary of Entergy – the second largest nuclear power plant owner in the country.

It is disconcerting to a community when it learns that a nuclear plant is leaking radioactive pollutants. It is also troubling to learn that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has no formal regulatory measures in place to monitor such leaks, to notify local elected officials and the public or to require immediate remediation of such onsite leaks.

Prompted by the growing list of leaks and no formal regulatory process, the Union of Concerned Scientists and 22 national and regional watchdog groups – including Riverkeeper – formally petitioned the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in early 2006. The petition called for all nuclear power plant operators to provide information on their methods for measuring leakage of radioactive toxins. The groups also sought answers to questions regarding industry compliance with federal regulations and the health risks to the public.

While nuclear watchdog groups and environmental organizations continue to pressure the Commission to increase and improve oversight of the industry, the Nuclear Energy Institute – the lobbying arm of the industry – is discouraging the Commission from implementing tougher standards for the nuclear industry.

Nearly six months after the Union of Concerned Scientist’s petition was submitted, the Commission issued a draft decision stating that the agency was satisfied with the industry’s proposed voluntary reporting initiative and would seek no further regulatory actions. It appears that federal regulation has become synonymous with industry self-regulation. The public interest coalition is currently seeking to reverse this decision.

In its decision, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission noted that “all available information on those [radioactive] releases shows no threat to the public health and safety.” That information isn’t much comfort for Godley residents, who continue to rely on 20 gallons per week of bottled water. Godley resident Linda Schott’s major concern is what health impacts leaks have had and will continue to have on her family and neighbors. A mother of four and grandmother of eleven, she quietly notes, “Female health problems are common in the area.” She and her daughter have suffered from them, and many of her friends have as well. “Covering things up and lying to us is not being a good neighbor. And that’s basically what they did.”

Exelon & Atom, The Crime-Fighting Dog
Schott is frustrated. This isn’t the first major safety problem that Exelon has tried to ‘cover up.’ In 2000, approximately 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel oil spilled onsite migrating into the ditches that separate plant property from neighboring property owners. Local government officials were not notified of the leak. At a public hearing Exelon initially claimed that the fuel originated from stormwater runoff from parking lots. It was later confirmed that the diesel fuel oil came from leaking underground pipes from storage tanks for back-up power generators, vital equipment found at nuclear plants. The Godley Park District filed a lawsuit against Exelon in 2001 when a measurable amount of xylene was found in one of the Park District’s drinking water wells, but quickly ran out of money to fund litigation against a multi-billion dollar corporation. Exelon reported $79 billion in assets, with $26.9 billion in revenues in 2003. The Parks Department’s annual budget and its legal resources to combat the pollution from the nuclear plant is paltry by comparison.

Exelon’s mishandling of the spills has bred community mistrust for the corporation. Pearl Jones, whose property abuts the draining ditches, noted, “We’ve heard so much and you don’t really know what’s going on.”

This pervasive mistrust has not gone unnoticed. Since Exelon’s troubles at Braidwood, the corporation has tried to curry favor with the community. In 2001, it launched “Fishing for the Cure,” an annual bass competition with proceeds going to a local charity. In April 2006, it purchased a crime-fighting dog, Atom, for the local police department. Exelon also sponsors the community’s July 4th fireworks display. The generosity Exelon peppers on the community, however, pales in comparison to the more than $500,000 that Exelon’s political action committee spent in the 2002 congressional election cycle.

Big money, however, is not about to deter Joe Cosgrove this time. “I’m fortunate to have community members that support my work for the Park District,” he explains, when asked how he keeps going. His latest battle with Exelon over the tritium leaks has propelled him into an entirely new role. He is a point person in the community for federal and state regulators, local government officials, government and private attorneys, the media, and, of course, his neighbors. Perhaps Cosgrove’s greatest credibility factor is that he isn’t looking to shut down the nuclear plant, he simply wants the corporation to take responsibility for the spills and their impacts on the community. “We hold them to a higher standard. They’re not a chocolate factory. They’re a nuclear plant,” he says.

The six million gallon tritium contamination leak stems from safety breaches at Braidwood. The source is a five-mile pipe that flushes water from the plant’s cooling lake into the Kankakee River. Beginning as early as 1996, large volumes of tritiated water began leaking from these underground pipes. In 1998, a valve broke, allowing approximately three million gallons of contaminated water to leak into the river and the groundwater. The same problem occurred in 2000, releasing an additional three million gallons into the environment.

While Exelon searches for answers to the leak, they are facing growing pressure from the community and its elected officials. The current linchpin in the Braidwood case is over a new public waterworks system for surrounding communities. For decades, private, shallow sandpit wells ranging from five to 12 feet deep have been the source of drinking water for Godley residents. So far, one private drinking water well, and 28 test wells have tested positive for tritium, with levels up to 11 times higher than the standard deemed “safe” by the federal government. Neighboring Wilmington has different problems. In 1990, this city stopped drawing drinking water from wells due to high levels of radium discovered during routine testing. Believing that the Kankakee River was a safe alternative, Wilmington opted to draw its drinking water from the river. But now that the river has been contaminated with tritium, officials are again looking for a safe water source.

In February 2006, Exelon agreed to pay a portion of the costs to build a public water system. Negotiations, however, broke down when elected officials asked Excelon to pay the full costs of the new system, estimated at $12 million. The bill to restore safe drinking water to the community is a minute fraction of the earnings and assets of the company, which are derived in part from its operations in the community. In March 2006, Illinois Congressman Jerry Weller wrote a letter to Exelon Chairman John Rowe stating, “I believe Exelon bears the sole responsibility, both logistical and financial, to ensure local residents have a clean and reliable drinking water source. I was somewhat dismayed to learn Exelon pledged only to cover costs not paid by federal, state and local governments, as if those funds are to be a given.” State agencies have begun to put the heat on Exelon. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency issued an order against Exelon for violating sections of the state’s Groundwater Act. The corporation can be fined up to $10,000 per day for each violation.

Unlike the diesel fuel spill, for which Cosgrove found himself and the Park District alone in battling a multi-billion dollar corporation, he now has the legal support of state and local governments backing him and effected residents. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow have filed a lawsuit against Exelon for releasing tritium into the groundwater at the Braidwood plant. The suit, filed in March 2006, alleges that tritiated water was released at eight locations at the plant on six occasions since 1996. Several of the leaks, according to the lawsuit, occurred due to “inadequate maintenance and operation” of vital systems.

Some residents of Godley have also filed a class action suit against Exelon for property damage and compensation for “loss of use and enjoyment of property.” Meanwhile, Exelon is moving ahead with the purchase of properties in the area, buying an adjacent horse track and thoroughbred ranch and boarding up the property with flimsy fencing plastered with “No Trespassing” signs. But owners of the trailer homes near the Braidwood plant have not received the same generous buyout offers. Pearl Jones has received no offer. Of the effluent ditch sidelining her property, she says, “it doesn’t even freeze in the winter like it used to. Kids used to skate on it. Now it smells like stag water.”

This is the kind of anecdote one hears all over Godley for, as in many small towns across the country, people here are willing to take the time to share their stories, if given the opportunity. In discussions with residents I was told about the strange occurrences to befall the village of Godley over the last few years: a champion competition dog whose hair turned orange after jumping into one of the plant’s ditches; several litters of deformed puppies born from a champion breeder’s bitch; and goats at a local hobby farm that had numerous unexplained miscarriages. Several respected community members also spoke quietly with me about the cancer deaths of two cleanup workers in their thirties, and a third also in his thirties dying of cancer; a significant increase in medically-required hysterectomies in young and old women alike; and an increase in thyroid problems throughout the population at large.

The health problems and concerns of area residents are beginning to receive needed attention. In June 2006 Illinois Senator Dick Durbin announced that the Federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) agreed to conduct an independent health study of the Godley and Unincorporated Reed Township area. The study will investigate potential health impacts of tritiated water. Durbin’s request of the federal agency stemmed from a report conducted by the Concerned Citizens Awareness Group, a local community group that documented over 60 cases of cancer in residents living within a three-mile area of an outlet pipe from the Braidwood plant during a 20-year period. The residents of Godley are now anxiously awaiting the findings of the ATSDR study.

Other members of the Illinois Congressional delegation have also stepped up their efforts with regard to the tritium leak and Nuclear Regulatory Commission oversight.

Political Meltdown
Politics and nuclear power have always had a symbiotic relationship. In 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower announced his “Atoms for Peace” initiative, which sought to shift American and world perspectives on nuclear technologies from one of war and destruction to one of peace and energy production. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter banned the reprocessing of spent fuel – which creates weapons-grade plutonium as a byproduct – out of concern over nuclear proliferation. And a strong band of Nevadan elected officials have prevented the Department of Energy from opening the nation’s proposed high-level waste repository at Yucca Mountain. Now, with a pro-nuclear administration in the White House, another approach and another shift in thinking about nuclear power has entered public discourse.

Since the near meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979 and the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, no new licenses for U.S. nuclear power plants have been approved. But that hasn’t prevented the industry from testing the waters and paving the way for a new wave of nuclear power plant construction. Spurred on by the Nuclear Energy Institute and the extensive promotion of nuclear expansion by the Bush Administration and a handful of U.S. Members of Congress, notions of an American ‘nuclear renaissance’ have reached near-mythical proportions in the media and on Capitol Hill. Nuclear power has been connoted as ‘green,’ a ‘cure to global warming’ and a ‘solution to our foreign oil dependency,’ without discussion of the legacy of nuclear contamination and pollution.

Big money can be traced from nuclear political action committees and lobbying groups to President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Sen. Pete Domenici, Sen. Mary Landrieu, Sen. James Inhofe, Rep. John D. Dingell, Rep. Lindsey Graham and Rep. Ralph M. Hall. Those who have received the heftiest campaign donations are also the strongest and loudest proponents of the expansion of nuclear power – primarily through billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies for the construction of these facilities.

In the 2002 election cycle, according to Public Citizen’s 2003 report Hot Waste, Cold Cash, the nuclear industry contributed over $4 million to U.S. House of Representatives election campaigns, nearly a million of which went to those working on the energy bill. Nuclear political action committees sent a total of $3 million in contributions to the U.S. Senate from 1998 to 2002. In return, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 provides over $13 billion in subsidies and tax breaks to the nuclear industry. The Energy Policy Act also renewed the Price-Andersen Act, an insurance policy for the nuclear industry that caps liability payouts in the event of a nuclear disaster at $10 billion. These most recent subsidies are on top of the $145 billion in subsidies given to the nuclear industry over the last five decades. In comparison, renewable energy received $5 billion in subsidies during that same time frame.

Financial incentives are not the only benefits of hefty campaign contributions. Policy changes are also key to guaranteeing a nuclear renaissance. Under the Bush administration, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has changed its regulations to make it not only easier to site and permit new nuclear power plants, but also to swiftly add an additional 20 years of operation onto currently operating plants. The Commission has already approved license extensions for 44 reactors, while eight are currently under review and approximately 30 more are slated for submission within the next decade. Three early site permit applications for new reactors are already before the agency.

It seems that a steady stream of taxpayer money, all-powerful energy conglomerates and influential powerbrokers may be just the right formula to bring the nuclear industry back from near extinction.

But while U.S. politicians seem quick to push new plants, polls suggest that the public doesn’t want them. A 2005 International Atomic Energy Agency poll of citizens in 18 countries (including the U.S.) on their opinions on nuclear power found that, “While majorities of citizens generally support the continued use of existing nuclear reactors, most people do not favor the building of new nuclear plants.”

Civic Solutions
The story of Braidwood highlights how a corporation, aided by the federal agency charged with regulating it, can elude responsibility for serious safety problems. It also exemplifies the strength and unity of a community when threatened. Godley, Braidwood and Wilmington citizens, who would never characterize themselves as “activists,” came together in a time of uncertainty and forced their elected representatives – from the local to state to federal levels – to pay attention and act to protect their community. Until residents stood up and recognized their important role in the democratic process, repeated assaults on their environment fell through the cracks of federal and state agencies.

That is not to say it wasn’t an uphill battle. Christine Anne, a former resident of Godley, felt that Exelon’s behavior was in large part due to prejudices against the community, “They just don’t care about us. Exelon made a decision on the people of Godley – they’re low-income, low-educated, poor folk on the other side of the railroad track.” But when faced with the incredible power of big government and the influence of multi-billion dollar energy corporations, what community in America cannot be viewed as poor folk from the other side of the track?

These barriers make it all the more important that the residents of Godley are no longer fighting the tritium battle alone. Godley Park District director Joe Cosgrove seems pleased that state and federal elected officials have become actively involved. But he also realizes that they are a long way from bringing certainty or justice to a community that has repeatedly been lied to and mistreated. He pauses for a moment when thinking about his newfound second career protecting his community. “You have to find something for the people – some solution, some justice. For us the basic thing,” he reflected, “is a safe and secure drinking water supply. Community awareness is the second solution – when government and elected officials know they’re held accountable, they act.”

He may have to wait a while longer for the first solution, but the second seems to have already happened and is now well on its way toward maturity.

Radioactive Isotopes Created by Nuclear Power Plants

Tritium (H3)
12.3 Year Half-life
• Radioactive isotope of hydrogen.
• Byproduct of nuclear fission at nuclear power plants.
• Replaces hydrogen in water molecules, forming ‘tritiated water.’
• If absorbed in liquid form, concentrates in soft tissue and organs.
• Exposure increases risk of cancer, miscarriages and genetic defects.

Strontium (SR-90)
29.1 Year Half-life
• Byproduct of nuclear fission at nuclear power plants.
• One of the most hazardous constituents of nuclear waste.
• Behaves chemically like calcium, concentrating in bones and teeth.
• Internal exposure linked to bone cancer and leukemia.

Cesium (CS-137)
30.13 Year Half-life
• Metal byproduct of nuclear reactor waste.
• Moves easily through the environment, making it difficult to clean up.
• Absorbed by breathing in contaminated dust, handling irradiated equipment or drinking contaminated water containing a dissolved form of cesium.
• Exposure increases risk of cancer.

1 comment:

Rajesh said...

This is an interesting site. I am definitely coming back.