Fukushima-type reactor in Vermont gets the axe, concerns remain

A nuclear power plant near the town of Brattleboro, Vermont is being shut down thanks to local environmental activism. The Vermont Yankee plant ceased splitting atoms on Dec. 29 after more than 42 years of activity. The victory is one that will surely bring relief to activists and citizens alike, as the plant’s reactor was the General Electric Mark I, the same design as that of Fukushima, which infamously melted down and exploded, spewing radiation into the atmosphere.

Due to a hefty push-back in 2010 from Citizen’s Awareness Network, the Vermont Senate voted 26 to 4 on Feb. 24 that year to phase Vermont Yankee out of operation after 2012. That has now come to pass, but it was largely the result of activists raising awareness of the possible negative health effects of the reactor. At the time of the vote, the plant was leaking radioactive tritium into the air following the collapse of a cooling tower back in 2007.

The structural dismantling of the plant, meanwhile, will not be completed until 2040.

The plant is owned by Entergy, a corporation that has a history almost as toxic as the fossil fuel it deals with. The company has a number of alleged misdeeds including stealing overtime wages from workers, overcharging customers, and having a general lack of regulatory oversight that likely contributed to the 2007 mishap.

A similar fiasco recently occurred at the Browns Ferry nuclear plant near Athens, Alabama, from which a leak of radioactive water released tritium into the environment sometime during the week of Jan. 5. The Tennessee Valley Authority, which operates the plant, maintained that the leak was quickly stoppered and no significant public risk was presented. One could be forgiven, however, if he or she still had qualms about the integrity of the reactors, particularly as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission determined that the plant’s three units are at some risk from potential earthquakes. In the midst of climate change, that serves only to exacerbate already existing concerns.

The plant has long been in the crosshairs of Mothers Against Tennessee River Radiation, a group representing concerned citizens, environmentalists, and workers. Garry Morgan, a retired U.S. Army medical officer who has monitored radiation around Browns Ferry for the group, remarked, “Any leak of radionuclide contaminant into the environment indicates a failure of oversight and/or attention to detail, maybe both, on the part of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Tennessee Valley Authority.” He added that cancer mortality rates have increased by 20 percent above the U.S. average since Browns Ferry began generating power in 1974.

The problem of leaking tritium, which is a radioactive form of hydrogen, does not end there. According to the Associated Press, the contaminant has leaked from at least 48 reactors – and perhaps as many as 65 – across the U.S., and often ends up in groundwater. This information was taken by AP from Nuclear Regulatory Commission records as part of their coverage on the matter. Furthermore, tritium from at least three of those sites – two in Illinois and one in Minnesota – has actually seeped into the drinking wells of residential homes, said the report.

In conclusion, while one plant with Fukushima-type reactors has been defeated, others remain, and are contributing to environmental toxicity. Greenpeace noted, “The world is still running more than 400 inherently dangerous nuclear reactors. Millions of people are at risk. Nuclear energy is not a necessary evil, because affordable, safer, and cleaner energy solutions exist. They are only a matter of political choice.”

Photo: Vermont Yankee plant.  |  AP

 


CONTRIBUTOR

Blake Skylar
Blake Skylar

Blake is a production manager, responsible for the daily assembly of the PW home page. He also writes on environment and culture. He has covered issues including the BP oil spill and the UN Climate Conference in Paris. His coverage has earned him awards from the Illinois Woman’s Press Association and the International Labor Communications Association. He is currently in Weehawken, in his home state of New Jersey. He likes cats, wine, books, music, and nature. He writes a blog that can be found at blakedeppe.com.

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