On Feb. 13, 2012, attorney Terry Lodge of Toledo, on behalf of an environmental coalition, filed a rebuttal to challenges by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff and Detroit Edison. The agency and utility were challenging contentions filed by the environmental coalition on Jan. 11, 2012 concerning NRC's Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) about the new Fermi 3 reactor, a proposed General Electric-Hitachi ESBWR (so-called "Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor"). The new contentions involve such issues as impacts on endangered and threatened plant and animal species (such as the Eastern Fox Snake, the Karner Blue Butterfly, the Prairie Fringed Orchid, the American Lotus, and others), and their critical habitats, from the overall Fermi 3 proposal, as well as related sub-proposals, such as the contemplated transmission line corridor; radiological health impacts on the Monroe County community from Fermi 3, which has already suffered a half century of radiological and toxic chemical harm from the Fermi 1 and Fermi 2 reactors, as well as a number of giant coal burning power plants; and impacts on the Walpole Island First Nation, just 53 miles away across the U.S./Canadian border. The coalition includes Beyond Nuclear, Citizen Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario, Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination, Don't Waste Michigan, and the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter.
Animals are affected by the operation of nuclear power - but are the most ignored of all the nuclear industry's victims. Whether sucked into reactor intake systems, or pulverized at the discharge, aquatic animals and their habitats are routinely harmed and destroyed by the routine operation of reactors. (For more, see our Licensed to Kill page).
Xcel Energy's Prairie Island nuclear power plant has made what appears to be two admissions of separate toxic chemical and radiological spills in less than a week. Residents, and the tribal day care center, of the Prairie Island Indian Community are located within hundreds of yards of the nuclear power plant. While the nuclear establishment's philosophy is one of "dilution is the solution to tritium pollution," impacts on area flora and fauna -- such as bioaccumulation up the food chain, the reverse of dilution -- very often go unmentioned and unstudied. Read more...
The Saint Paul, Minnesota Pioneer Press ran a front page article about the recent spills at Prairie Island nuclear power plant, quoting Beyond Nuclear's Kevin Kamps responding to Xcel Energy's and the NRC's downplaying of the risks of the tritium spills:
"But Kevin Kamps, a radioactive-waste specialist at Beyond Nuclear, a Maryland-based watchdog group that focuses on the nuclear power industry, said it was irresponsible to claim that there was no danger.
'We do take exception to that flippant disregard they have. Tritium is a clinically proven cause of cancer, birth defects, and genetic mutations,' Kamps said. 'It's long known that any exposure carries a health risk.'
...But just because the level is below the EPA's limit does not mean there's no risk, Kamps said.
'It's long known that any exposure to radioactivity, no matter how small, still carries a risk of cancer," he said. "And those risks accumulate over a lifetime."
The articles reports that Xcel Energy did not notify the Prairie Island Indian Community, located 600 yards from the nuclear power plant, about last November's spill until last week, and waited till Monday to notify them about last Friday's spill, as it had occurred "after business hours" just before a weekend.
Of course, health damage to humans from nuclear radiation is a strong indication that health damage to other mammals -- be they domestic or wild -- not to mention other life forms, is a strong possibility. Although the following article focuses on human health impacts, impacts to other animals should be kept in mind...
The Detroit News has reported, in an article entitled "Fermi 3 foes urge health analysis," that indications of health damage from the operations of Fermi 2 be further studied before any plans for a new reactor at Fermi 3 move forward. The article reports on the questions raised in a recent report by Joe Mangano, Executive Director of the Radiation and Public Health Project, such as why Monroe County suffers from inexplicably high rates of infant motality, low birth weights, cancer mortality, and non-fatal cancer incidence.
Mangano serves as an expert witness for the international environmental coalition officially intervening against the Fermi 3 proposal. The coalition's member groups are Beyond Nuclear, Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination, Citizen Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario, and the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter.
The article quoted from Mangano's submission: "Of 19 indicators, the Monroe County rate change (before and after Fermi 2 began operating) exceeded the state or nation for all 19...".
The article also quoted from Don't Waste Michigan's Michael Keegan: "It's important to establish what the situation is...If you're talking about putting another reactor into play, you need to know where you are with baseline cancer statistics."
Before the Fukushima Nuclear Catastrophe, Japan did not have limits for radioactive contamination in food. "Provisional" standards were rushed into place, which are still on the books. The Japanese federal government's limit for Cesium-134/Cesium-137 contamination in food is 500 bequerels per kilogram (the Canadian and U.S. standards are weaker by the way -- 1,000 bq/kg and 1,200 bq/kg, respectively!). It should be borne in mind that just because the Japanese federal government has "provisionally" declared 500 bq/kg of Cs-134 and/or Cs-137 in food to be "acceptable" or "permissible," this does not mean it's "safe."
The following 18 different types of food products sampled in Japan in December and January violated those limits: log-grown Shitake mushrooms (up to 2,390 bq/kg); greenling fish (up to 1,540 bq/kg); goldeye rockfish (up to 1,630 bq/kg); common skate (up to 640 bq/kg); rockfish (up to 2,130 bq/kg); bitter melon tea (up to 1,020 bq/kg); boar meat (up to 13,300 bq/kg); dehydrated taro stalk (up to 750 bq/kg); righteye flounder (up to 1,380 bq/kg); Yuzu citrus fruit (930 bq/kg); Japanese smelt (591 bq/kg); dried Japanese radish (800 bq/kg); Asian black bear meat (1,110 bq/kg); sika deer meat (573 bq/kg); dried yacon leaf (570 bq/kg); lefteye flounder (540 bq/kg); fox jacopever fish (1,310 bq/kg); dried oyamabokuchi (570 bq/kg).
While the data above was collected in the context of the human food chain, it nonetheless shows that both wild plants and wild animals (various species of fish, and even mammals such as bear, boar, and deer) have been radioactively contaminated by Fukushima fallout.
As reported by a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) media release, Exelon Nuclear's Byron Unit 2 atomic reactor near Rockford, IL, primary electrical grid power was lost and safety and cooling systems had to run from emergency backup diesel generators when smoke was seen coming from a switchyard transformer. However, when the plant's fire brigade responded, they could not find the fire. The NRC activated its incident response center in Region III headquarters in Lisle, IL to monitor the situation.
As revealed by Exelon's "Event Report," offsite firefighters were called in, Unit 1 is still at full power, and Unit 2's cool down "steam [is] leaving via atmospheric relief valves."
An initial AP report on the incident stated: "The steam contains low levels of tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen, but federal and plant officials insisted the levels were safe for workers and the public...[NRC] officials also said the release of tritium was expected...[NRC spokeswoman Viktoria] Mitlyng said officials can't yet calculate how much tritium is being released. They know the amounts are small because monitors around the plant aren't showing increased levels of radiation, she said...Tritium molecules are so microscopic that small amounts are able to pass from radioactive steam that originates in the reactor through tubing and into the water used to cool turbines and other equipment outside the reactor, Mitlyng said. The steam that was being released was coming from the turbine side...Tritium is relatively short-lived and penetrates the body weakly through the air compared to other radioactive contaminants."
But the linear no threshold theory, endorsed by the U.S. National Academies of Science for decades, holds that any exposure to radioactvity, no matter how small, still carries a health risk, and such risks are cumulative over a lifetime. It would be more honest for NRC officials to states that the tritium releases from Byron are "acceptably risky," in their judgment, but not "safe." After all, tritium is a potent radionuclide, a clinincally proven cause of cancer, mutations, and birth defects, and if inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through the skin, can integrate anywhere in the human body, right down to the DNA level.
A follow up article by AP quoted NRC spokeswoman Viktoria Mytling as assuring that the reactor would not be re-started until a root cause of the incident was determined, and the problem fixed. However, such a promise by NRC at Davis-Besse, near Toledo, was recently broken by NRC: widespread cracking in the reactor's concrete shield building, a secondary radiological containment structure, did not stop NRC from rubberstamping the reactor's re-start on December 6th, even though the root cause, extent, and fix for the cracking have still not been determined.
The most recent update from AP reports that Exelon has announced a cause for the incident: a failed electrical insulator, which fell off.