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The Tritium Challenge

Back on March 23, WTTW-TV's Chicago Tonight broadcast a story on the tritium leaks at Exelon's Braidwood Nuclear Power Plant. A friend of ours, Dimitri Dimitroyannis, Ph.D., a member of the Clinical Faculty in Radiology at Harvard Medical School, was less than impressed with what he saw. A letter he wrote to the program, which he authorized us to use here at NEI, follows:
Good Chicago Tonight folks:

I was distressed by your Madigan vs Exelon report ( Thursday 23-Mar-2006 by Ms Brackett) and especially on the alleged health risks from the tritium leak in the water table surrounding the Exelon nuclear powerplant.

Avoiding technical jargon on the risks associated with drinking tritiated water, let me propose the following: I am willing to drink water at the current maximum EPA tritium concentration (20pCi/ml) for the rest of my life-starting with a water a demonstration in front of your TV cameras.

I estimate that if I consume 2 liters per day -about 8 average size glasses- of such tritium "contaminated" water, I will receive the same amount of additional radiation exposure as if I were to:

(a) spend one weekend a year skiing in Colorado, or
(b) fly one-way, once a year NYC-LA on a commercial jet.

To put the severity of the reported tritium leak in perspective, only one out of 13 tested wells outside the Exelon property showed measurable levels of tritium and that single measurement was at about 10% of said EPA level.

If we were to transform the Exelon Braidwood powerplant from nuclear to coal fired-and brushing aside the issues of greenhouse emissions, acid rain generation and mercury releases- we would have increased by one-hundred-fold the radiation exposure of the surrounding area, by releasing as gas the naturally occurring, radioactive components of coal. (These radioactive releases from coal fired plant have been well documented, do not seem to produce epidemiologically detectable radiation induced injuries and are *NOT* environmentally regulated)

I was not expecting Illinois Attorney General Madigan-a lawyer by training and a politician by trade- to be able to grasp the technical side of the issue. However, Chicago has such a long and proud tradition in the nuclear sciences that you should have had no problem locating a mainstream, qualified physicist from the area to consult on the risks relating to the reported incident.

I am sure you will be willing to provide a more balanced coverage by hosting a tritiated water drinking demonstration for your needlessly worried audience

I am anxiously awaiting to hear from you,

--Dimitri Dimitroyannis, Ph.D
Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital and
Clinical Faculty in Radiology, Harvard Medical School
Seems pretty definitive to me. I wonder if they have the guts to take him up on his offer.

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>>I wonder if they have the guts to take him up on his offer.

Of course not. That's our job.
Paul Primavera said…
I just can't help myself. Please forgive me.

So Paul Gunter, prove Stewart Peterson wrong. Or do you prefer coal plant pollution which is hundreds of times more radioactive?
Anonymous said…
That was smart. Really smart.

--Rose Chris
gunter said…

Isn't this Bernie Cohen's old trick?

What's it suppose to prove anyways with regard to chronic low dose exposures?

More relevant would be if he pledged to have his grandchildren to routinely ingest tritiated water.

Why dont you just recognize the clinic studies that have already been done that demonstrate the damage that even low dose tritium can inflict?

And BTW, Mr. Primavera, it just doesnt wash that opposition to nuclear power means support of coal pollution and mountain top removal.

Afterall, companies like Dominion Nuclear are just subsidaries of the same parent companies that are burning coal, fighting scrubbers, generating nuclear waste and resisting demandside management.
Permit me to complete Paul Gunter's partial reference to "...Bernie Cohen's old trick". In the late 1970s Professor Bernard Cohen, Physics, Univ of Pittsburg-now emeritus- calculated that the injestion lethal dose for pure crystalline caffeine and metallic plutomium is about the same (around 15-20 gr). Cohen then challenged Ralph Nader who had written that "one pound of plutonium can cause 8 billion cancers" to an on-camera demonstration: Cohen offered to eat gram-per-gram as much plutonium as Nader would take caffeine. Needless to say, Nader did not response (for details on the challenge look up "Bernard Cohen" in the Wikipedia).

Since Cohen never withdrawn his challenge and since both of them are still around I do not see why you call it "Cohen's trick", Mr Gunter. Maybe you should have called Nader to remind him on the pending offer.

To come to the tritium pickle: Consuming exclusively tritiated water at current EPA levels, I estimate my yearly additional radiation exposure to be equal or less to an one-way NYC-LA jet trip, or one long weekend skiing in Leadville, Colorado- I live in Boston. I regularly take my 8 year old daughter on across the country jet flights; millions of parents "expose" their kids to similar or larger radiation doses when flying. And as for my grandkids, I will treasure the time when I can share Leadville powder with them. Remember, this is what one gets living exclusively on EPA level tritiated water. The *only* public well with measurable tritium near the IL Exelon plant in March-2006 came at 10% of that.

Since Dr Bernard Cohen is in his 80s, I propose to take his sit and renew the challenge on public injection of Pu vs caffeine. Would you consider taking Nader's sit, dear Mr Gunter?
Anonymous said…
Can this man spell English? I suggest taking some grammar lessons

Nader did not response....
Anonymous said…
Perhaps it is the tritiated water making him "glow", and search for a cosmic glow.
Anonymous said…
Tritium from tritiated water can become incorporated into DNA, the molecular basis of heredity for living organisms. DNA is especially sensitive to radia-tion. (A cell’s exposure to tritiumbound in DNA can be even more toxic than its exposure to tritium in water.
I can also cause mental retardation.
Happy drinking.
Anonymous said…
Cosmic glow? Are you thinking what I am thinking? Hilarious.
Anonymous said…
Nah! He is too paranoid to drink tritium. and too old too.I think he is 50 or so.

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