With 49 million Americans drawing their drinking water from areas within 50 miles of nuclear power plants—and with three-quarters of all U.S. nuclear power plants already leaking radioactivity into groundwater supplies—it is time for the U.S. to move toward cleaner, safer and cheaper alternatives for our energy needs.It comes as no surprise that four authors without environmental monitoring backgrounds are pushing their own agenda—to shut down all U.S. nuclear plants—and distorting the facts about the industry’s ground water protection initiatives to support their case.
Let’s review the facts:
First, the nuclear industry considers any unintended release of radioactive materials to be unacceptable. Period. This is why the industry has programs in place to monitor ground water and underground piping at all U.S. plant sites. It is also why every company operating an U.S. nuclear plant informs local, state and federal authorities of an unintended release, even if it is below the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s threshold for reporting.
The industry’s voluntary ground water protection and underground piping programs enhance the capabilities for early detection of tritium in ground water, and complement the redundant, protective measures set forth by the NRC. They also ensure that licensees are taking appropriate actions to stop the release and to make stakeholders aware of unintended releases at levels well below those deemed safe by federal authorities for public health and the environment. In the rare instances when higher-than-expected levels of tritium have been detected at nuclear plant sites, it has been these dual industry environmental monitoring and protection programs which have brought them to light. After careful review and examination of these instances, the NRC independently verified that the public has never been in danger:
The NRC recently identified several instances of unintended tritium releases, and all available information shows no threat to the public.The industry’s extensive environmental monitoring programs have proven very effective. In the U.S. nuclear industry’s 3,500 combined reactor-years of operation, there is no scientific evidence that any member of the general public has ever been harmed by a radiation release from a U.S. nuclear energy facility, including tritium.
Second, there has not been an increase in harmful levels of tritium reaching drinking water supplies from nuclear plants. The report claims that an Associated Press investigation has found a greater number of tritium leaks in the last decade, stating:
Tritium leaks have occurred with great regularity at U.S. nuclear plants. An investigation by the Associated Press found that leaks have occurred at 75 percent of U.S. plants, and that a great number of them have taken place in the past five years. On at least three occasions, tritium leaks from nuclear plants have contaminated nearby well water.As you may recall, we responded to the shoddy AP series last summer to correct a number of factual errors and misleading reporting in their news coverage. In particular, on the topic of tritium leaks into ground water, NEI had this to say:
There has been no known adverse impact on public health or safety from a tritium release at commercial nuclear power plants. As the AP acknowledges, no tritium is known to have reached public water supplies.
No drinking water supply has exceeded the allowable limit set by the EPA for tritium in the Safe Drinking Water Act. AP reporter Jeff Donn acknowledged this fact in a June 24 interview on “Democracy Now!” when he said, “The main danger from tritium, the main health danger, is if you were to drink it. The EPA sets a limit on how much can be in drinking water. None of the leaks have entered drinking water in amounts that would violate the EPA limits so far.”The Environment America-U.S. PIRG report also claims that older nuclear plants are more likely to have ground water problems, another claim that simply is not true. The report states:
As plants have aged, the risk of tritium leaks has risen, since aging equipment has had more time to develop leaks and weaknesses.However, in our same fact sheet that corrects the AP’s inaccurate news coverage, we also pointed out that older nuclear reactors are still subject to the same NRC requirements regardless of their age or condition.
U.S. nuclear power plants are subject to a rigorous program of NRC oversight, inspection, preventive and corrective maintenance, equipment replacement, and extensive equipment testing. These programs ensure nuclear plant equipment continues to meet safety standards, no matter how long the plant has been operating.Despite Environment America and U.S. PIRG’s best efforts to scare the American public into thinking all U.S. nuclear plants are leaking radioactive materials into ground water supplies, they need to let the facts speak for themselves and not cite sources, like the AP, which have already been debunked.