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Vermont Guardian

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Nuclear power is not green power

By Hattie Nestel

Posted January 12, 2007

What in the world can people be thinking to even consider a 20-year license extension for the Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor?

According to the National Academy of Science’s 2005 report — “The Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation, BEIR VII” — there is no safe level of exposure to radiation.

This is not new information. The danger of radiation has been well researched and documented. Radiation induces mutations and can cause breaks in chromosomes to create babies born with Downs Syndrome or other serious mental or physical disorders. Radioactive elements can cross the placenta or be passed to a fetus from the father’s sperm to foster abnormal cells that can damage organs and develop into childhood cancers, lymphomas, leukemia, or heart diseases.

John F. Kennedy knew this well when he signed the atmospheric test ban treaty in 1963.

“The number of children and grandchildren with cancer in their bones, with leukemia in their blood, or with poison in their lungs [due to radioactive fallout from atmospheric nuclear testing] might seem statistically small to some, in comparison with natural health hazards,” Kennedy prophetically said at the time. “The loss of even one human life, or the malformation of even one baby … should be of concern to us all. Our children and grandchildren are not merely statistics toward which we can be indifferent.”

Like atmospheric testing, nuclear power plants emit radiation into our environment every day.

Why have the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and Vermont’s officials allowed Entergy to ratchet up the amount of power produced by Vermont Yankee 20 percent from what it was designed to produce, causing it to emit at least 20 percent more radioactive emissions?

How can it be that transports of radioactive waste that left Vermont Yankee from Vernon, on Aug. 31 with an alleged radiation level of 60 millirems per hour — according to Vermont Yankee records — arrived in Susquehanna, PA registering 820 millirem per hour? (Vermont Guardian, Sept. 6) The discrepancy is more than four times the federal limit of 200 millirems mandated by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

Why was Vermont Yankee allowed to exceed the state’s 20-millirem emissions limit in 1998, 2000, and 2004? And why is it expected, and allowed to do so again, in 2006, according to Bill Irwin, the state’s chief of radiological health? (Brattleboro Reformer, Nov. 20)

Do we realize nuclear power depends on uranium, a finite element that fuels the reactor? Uranium is quickly becoming less accessible, more expensive, and of lesser quality just like oil.

Does it matter to us that uranium mining necessarily is damaging populations on Native American lands in the Southwest? That uranium mill tailings have been left exposed, thus emitting radioactive elements that will remain in the air and water, poisoning local populations and migrating into the food chain? More than 265 million tons of uranium tailings lie around the Southwest as a result of this uranium mining. (National Geographic July 2002)

Every step of the way from uranium mining to crushing, milling, enriching, and transporting the 162 tons of natural uranium extracted from the earth to fuel one nuclear power plant each year is fossil-fuel intensive. Manufacturing concrete and steel for the reactor and transporting and assembling the plant on site are fossil-fuel intensive. There is nothing clean, green, safe, or sustainable about nuclear power.

Portrayed as emissions free, Vermont Yankee (VY), like every nuclear reactor, routinely releases millions of curies annually. Some of these radioactive emissions such as radioactive iodine 131, plutonium, strontium 90, many noble gases, and tritium go into our air and water and bioaccumulate in our food chain and bodies. These radioactive materials are extremely carcinogenic and mutagenic. They will be passed down through our genes to endless generations.

There is no repository available to store radioactive waste, which must be safeguarded for one million years. All of the VY radioactive waste is now stored in above ground casks lined up like bowling pins only 200 feet from the Connecticut River. (Entergy has refused to put the high-level radioactive waste in double walled steel and concrete underground berms twenty feet apart, rather than the above ground six feet apart, in order to cut expenses.)

Vermont Yankee is a 675-megawatt reactor and contains an amount of long-lived radiation equivalent to that released by 675 Hiroshima sized bombs. No nuclear reactor is accident proof. Do we really want this ticking time bomb in Vermont?

Who will decommission this highly radioactive reactor and figure out how to safeguard the waste for the next 12,000 human generations? And who will pay for this to be done?

The Vermont Legislature is expected to take up the question of relicensing Vermont Yankee for another 20 years. We must not allow relicensing.

We have the right to give our children radiation free air to breathe, food to eat, milk and water to drink. “Even more ominous than the cancer is the threat to future generations,” warned Alice Stewart, the prize-winning medical doctor and epidemiologist. “That’s what you ought to be really afraid of. It’s the genetic damage, the possibility of sowing bad seeds into the gene pool from which future generations are drawn. There will be a buildup of defective genes into the population. It won’t be noticed until it’s too late. Then we’ll never root it out, never get rid of it. It will be totally irreversible.”

By shutting down Vermont Yankee, we can create a healthy environment, free of dangerous radioactive emissions and the potential of a catastrophic nuclear accident.

Surely we can ban nuclear power from the state of Vermont and utilize the wonderful conservation, energy efficient products, and affordable technologies that are safe and sustainable.

Hattie Nestel lives in Athol, MA, within the emergency planning zone of Vermont Yankee.