Environmental Impacts

The entire nuclear fuel chain involves the release of radioactivity that contaminates the environment. Radiation can affect the air, water, soil, plants, animals, places of residence and recreation and elsewhere.



Entergy FitzPatrick causes oil spill into Great Lakes

U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary aerial photo of oil sheen on Lake Ontario caused by Entergy Nuclear's FitzPatrick atomic reactor, visible in backgroundNuclear power is not "emissions-free," as its proponents so often claim. In fact, sometimes it causes oil spills into fresh drinking water supplies...

As reported by the Democrat & Chronicle, Entergy Nuclear's FitzPatrick atomic reactor on the Lake Ontario shoreline in upstate New York just released up to 30 gallons of oil into that drinking water supply, utilized by many millions of people downstream in two countries.

The oil spill was not detected nor announced at first by Entergy, or the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), but rather by a U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary air crew, who spotted the visible sheen on Lake Ontario's surface waters (see photo, above/left).

As reported by the article:

A boat crew from Coast Guard Station Oswego launched to take samples of the sheen and enforce a safety zone extending two miles to the north and two miles to the east and west.

That amounts to a 6 square mile surface area of Lake Ontario.

Entergy has a bad record of oil spills into New York's surface waters. In May 2015, its Indian Point nuclear power plant just upstream from New York City on the Hudson River, spilled oil into the surface waters. That spill, of thousands of gallons of oil -- and the turbine fire that led to it -- prompted New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to rush to the scene to hold an emergency press conference.

(The Palisades atomic reactor in Michigan also spilled around 70 gallons of oil on the edge of the Great Lakes, this time Lake Michigan, a year earlier, in May 2014. However, Entergy claimed no oil made it into the Lake.)

(In early 2015, reports emerged of a two-month long leak of some 2,000 gallons of oil from the American Electric Power Donald C. Cook nuclear power plant, into Lake Michigan, some 30 miles south of Palisades, in Bridgman, MI.)

Lake Michigan is also the source of drinking water for some tens of millions of people downstream.

Of course, atomic reactors "emit" more than just oil spills into surface waters. They "routinely" discharge radioactivity into the air and surface waters, by design, which can then cause harm to human health and the environment downwind and downstream. (See the photo in the linked pamphlet, showing Entergy Palisades' liquid radioactive waste discharge pathway into Lake Michigan; the photo was taken by Gabriela Bulišová.)

Atomic reactors also have frequent unintended (or "accidental") spills and leaks of radioactivity into the environment. Beyond Nuclear published a major report about this in April 2010.

An example of this in New York is Entergy Indian Point's leakage of radioactivity (tritium, strontium, etc.) from high-level radioactive waste storage pools, which ultimately flows into the Hudson River, which has been underway for more than a decade.

Another example is Entergy Palisades' spill of 82 gallons of radioactive water into Lake Michigan in May 2013.


U.S. News and World Report: Atomic reactors leaking radioactivity into groundwater and surface waters, from New York City to Miami

As reported by Alan Neuhauser in U.S. News and World Report, Entergy's Indian Point nuclear power plant on the Hudson River just upstream from New York City, and Florida Power and Light's Turkey Point nuclear power plant on Biscayne Bay near Miami, are hemorrhaging radioactive tritium into groundwater and surface water.

At Indian Point, although the radioactive releases are into on-site groundwater, chances are very high that, over time, this tritium (and likely other) radioactive contamination will flow into the Hudson River, harming its fisheries.

At Turkey Point, in addition to the significant increase in radioactivity in a massive cooling canal network, as well as the ocean itself, the atomic reactors are also releasing large amounts of thermally hot waste heat into the surface waters. Remarkably, with U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission collusion and complicity, Turkey Point has been allowed to increase cooling canal water temperatures to 104 degrees Fahrenheit, hotter than most hot tubs. This is undoubtedly having a seriously harmful impact on the surrounding area's fragile ecosystem, home to endangered species like the American crocodile.


State of NY denies Entergy coastal management permit, blow to Indian Point's license extension prospects

Entergy's Indian Point reactors on the Hudson River near New York CityAs reported by the Associated Press, the State of New York Secretary of State has denied a coastal management certificate to Entergy Nuclear, for its twin reactor Indian Point nuclear power plant near New York City. The Secretary of State, Cesar Perales's, decision is the latest blow to Entergy's application for 20-year license extensions.

As reported:

"For over 40 years, Entergy's Indian Point nuclear facilities have been damaging the coastal resources of the Hudson River estuary," the state agency wrote. That includes 2.5 [billion] gallons of water withdrawn daily from the Hudson for cooling that kills an estimated 1 billion larvae, small fish and other organisms annually. More.


"Downstream," by Arnie Gundersen, Fairewinds Energy Education

The Great Lakes -- around 85% of North America's surface fresh water, and over 20% of the world's -- provide drinking water for 40 million people in 8 U.S. states, 2 Canadian provinces, and a large number of Native American First Nations.Arnie Gundersen, Chief Engineer at Fairewinds Energy Education, has posted a blog entitled "Downstream," about the radioactive risks to the Great Lakes from dozens of atomic reactors located on their shorelines, in both the U.S. and Canada.

Gundersen has served as expert witness for Beyond Nuclear et al. in numerous challenges to continued operations at risky reactors on the Great Lakes, including Palisades and Fermi 3 in Michigan, as well as Davis-Besse in Ohio.

(Beyond Nuclear's pamphlet, "Routine Radioactive Releases from U.S. Nuclear Power Plants," also shows it doesn't take an accident to cause contamination of surface fresh water supplies, nor coastal oceanic fisheries for that matter. A map is included, indicating which watersheds are impacted by each operating reactor in the U.S.)


Radioactivity in groundwater at Peach Bottom demonstrates "Leak First, Fix Later": industry self-regulated in self-interest

In April 2015, a monitoring well at Exelon’s Peach Bottom nuclear power plant in Delta, Pennsylvania tested positive for a significant level of tritium contamination in groundwater. It is another example of a decades-old pattern of nuclear reactors leaking radioactivity and a weak regulatory system that fails to openly address and fix the problem as required in federal licensing agreements. Beyond Nuclear publicly disclosed the radioactive leak to media along with the release of its updated investigative report “Leak First, Fix Later: Uncontrolled and Unmonitored Radioactive Releases from Nuclear Power Plants.”

Exelon’s 2005 disclosure of ten-year old cover-up of a series of leaks and spills releasing millions of gallons of radioactivity into groundwater and the public right-of-way around its Braidwood nuclear power plant in Illinois led to an industry-wide scandal of unreported, uncontrolled and unmonitored radioactive contamination of water resources around nuclear power plants. The fact that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) turned a blind eye on these leaks and violations of licensing agreements further spotlighted the complacency and complicity of the regulator in failing to enforce reactor performance criteria governing the required control and monitoring of radioactive waste water pathways at the reactors.

“Leak First, Fix Later” finds that U.S. nuclear power industry continues to experience uncontrolled leaks and spills of radioactive water because buried pipes and tanks remain inaccessible to inspection and maintenance. The NRC’s lackadaisical response over the years has allowed the industry to self-regulate groundwater protection in its own self-interest largely with impunity.

Following the industry scandal for failure to control and report radioactive leaks, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) commandeered national groundwater protection policy away from the NRC with a “voluntary initiative” to self-report unauthorized releases to the environment. But the industry self-reporting system, as the Peach Bottom leak confirms, has singularly failed to address and prevent reoccurring leaks and leaves the impacted public intentionally in the dark, the report finds.

According to the Exelon Peach Bottom leak memorandum, water contaminated with tritium had pooled on the floor inside the turbine building made its way outside into the groundwater monitoring test well. Following Beyond Nuclear’s disclosure in the media, Exelon “declined” to publicly identify what component or system was leaking. While the NRC made no initial request of the company to identify the leak source and how the uncontrolled leak made its way out of the turbine building structure into groundwater outside, the agency told media they would be looking into it.

Uncontrolled and unmonitored releases of radioactive isotopes migrating into the water table can remain dangerous for decades and longer. Tritium, radioactive hydrogen, is clinically shown to cause cancer, birth defects and genetic mutations.  Today’s groundwater can be tomorrow’s drinking water. This uncontrolled problem must no longer be trivialized by industry and regulator leaving others to bear the future consequences and costs.