Plymouth, MA - The drinking water for 4.8 million people in Massachusetts could be at risk of radioactive contamination from a leak or accident at nuclear power plants in the region, says a new report released today by the MASSPIRG Education Fund and Environment Massachusetts Research and Policy Center.
“As the report title says, the danger of nuclear power is too close to home. Here in Massachusetts, the drinking water for well more than half of our state is too close to an active nuclear power plant to ignore,” said Janet Domenitz, Executive Director of MASSPIRG. “An accident like the one in Fukushima, Japan could spew cancer-causing radioactive waste into our drinking water. The nuclear power plants in Plymouth, MA (Pilgrim), Vernon, VT (Yankee) and Seabrook, NH (Seabrook) are all within 50 miles of drinking water sources for Massachusetts residents.”
The nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, Japan last year drew a spotlight on the many risks associated with nuclear power. After the disaster, airborne radiation left areas around the plant uninhabitable, and contaminated drinking water sources near Tokyo, 130 miles from the plant.
"Nuclear power is simply not worth the risk. In addition to the Pilgrim nuclear power plant, here in Plymouth, we are concerned about all of the region's nuclear power plants, including Vermont Yankee, which has a deplorable safety record and is also within 50 miles the Quabbin reservoir, the largest source of drinking water in New England," commented MacKenzie Clark, field associate for Environment Massachusetts.
Radiation from a disaster like the one in Fukushima can contaminate drinking water and food supplies, as well as harm our health. But disaster or no, a common leak at a nuclear power plant can also threaten the drinking water for millions of people. As our nuclear facilities get older, leaks are more common. Seventy-five percent of U.S. nuclear plants have leaked tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen that can cause cancer and genetic defects. "Tritium is dangerous- it moves quickly into our blood stream after ingestion and can cause cancer, mutations, and impacts our very DNA,"said Claire Miller of Toxics Action Center. Miller grew up on the South Shore and points to Pilgrim as part of why she became active in the environmental and public health field.
How much our drinking water, public health and environment is harmed by Pilgrim's daily radioactive releases into the air and water is anyone's guess; because offsite releases are not properly monitored and disclosed to the public, and what the government labels as an acceptable level of radiation is based on decades old science. Today's science shows that far lower levels of exposure are much more harmful than previously believed. We are calling on Governor Patrick and the Legislature to raise the amount of money assessed to Entergy, Pilgrim's owner, for the Commonwealth's monitoring program so that the Massachusetts Department of Public Health can do its job, said Mary Lampert, head of Pilgrim Watch, based in Plymouth.
Local bodies of water also play a critical role in cooling nuclear reactors and are at risk of contamination. “Pilgrim already sucks in and discharges about 500 million gallons of water from Cape Cod Bay every day to cool the reactor, killing tens of thousands of fish every year while doing it. It doesn't take a scientist to predict what will happen if the plant goes critical for any reason, and the probability increases every day as the plant gets older, that it will,asserted Pine DuBois, of the Jones River Watershed Association, which has been active in the community raising concerns about Pilgrim. The Jones River is located less than 15 miles from Pilgrim.
The conclusion drawn by the authors of the report is that the United States needs to move to a future without nuclear power by retiring existing plants, abandoning plans for new plants, and expanding energy efficiency and the production of clean, renewable energy such as wind and solar power. In order to immediately reduce the risks nuclear power poses to water supplies, the report recommends completing a thorough safety review of U.S. nuclear power plants, requiring plant operators to implement recommended changes immediately and requiring nuclear plant operators to implement regular groundwater tests in order to catch tritium leaks, among other actions.
"We must not be cavalier about protecting drinking water for over four million Massachusetts residents, vital to our public health and the health of our entire economy,” said Becky Smith of Clean Water Action. “Energy production is inextricably linked to both water quality and quantity, so we must take great care as we plan for the future of powering Massachusetts.”
“Relying on old, worn-out nuclear power plants to get our energy is very risky,” concluded Anna Baker, a local resident and mother of two young children. “Massachusetts and the United States should learn from the tragedy at Fukushima and ensure that these outdated plants don't get relicensed in their current state. As they age and continue to operate, the risks they pose to our families' health increase every day."