are exposed to Pilgrim’s routine and not so routine releases, through
inhalation and ingestion.
Susanna Natti, from No Nukes, South End Press
What you are not supposed to know…
following material is taken with permission from a Fact Sheet prepared
by Nuclear Information Resource Service)
doesn’t take an accident for a nuclear power plant to release
radioactivity into our air, water and soil. All it takes is the
plant’s everyday routine operation, and federal regulations permit
these radioactive releases.
Radioactivity is measured in "curies." A large medical center, with
as many as 1000 laboratories in which radioactive materials are
used, may have a combined inventory of only about two curies.
In contrast, an average operating nuclear power reactor will have
approximately 16 billion curies in its reactor core. This is
the equivalent long-lived radioactivity of at least 1,000 Hiroshima
reactor’s fuel rods, pipes, tanks and valves can leak. Mechanical
failure and human error can also cause leaks. As a nuclear plant
ages, so does its equipment - and leaks generally increase.
Some contaminated water is intentionally removed from the reactor
vessel to reduce the amount of the radioactive and corrosive
chemicals that damage valves and pipes. The water is filtered and
then either recycled back into the cooling system or released into
typical 1000-megawatt pressurized-water reactor (with a cooling
tower) takes in 20,000 gallons of river, lake or ocean water per
minute for cooling, circulates it through a 50-mile maze of pipes,
returns 5,000 gallons per minute to the same body of water, and
releases the remainder to the atmosphere as vapor. A 1000-megawatt
reactor without a cooling tower takes in even more water--as much as
one-half million gallons per minute. The discharge water is
contaminated with radioactive elements in amounts that are not
precisely known or knowable, but are biologically active.
Some radioactive fission gases, stripped from the reactor cooling
water, are contained in decay tanks for days before being released
into the atmosphere through filtered rooftop vents. Some gases leak
into the power plant buildings’ interiors and are released during
periodic "purges" and "ventings." These airborne gases contaminate
not only the air, but also soil and water.
Radioactive releases from a nuclear power reactor’s routine
operation often are not fully detected or reported. Accidental
releases may not be completely verified or documented.
Accurate, economically-feasible filtering and monitoring
technologies do not exist for some of the major reactor by-products,
such as radioactive hydrogen (tritium) and noble gases, such as
krypton and xenon. Some liquids and gases are retained in tanks so
that the shorter-lived radioactive materials can break down before
the batch is released to the environment.
Government regulations allow radioactive water to be released to the
environment containing "permissible" levels of contamination.
Permissible does not mean safe. Detectors at reactors are
set to allow contaminated water to be released, unfiltered, if below
"permissible" legal levels.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission relies upon self-reporting and
computer modeling from reactor operators to track radioactive
releases and their projected dispersion. A significant portion of
the environmental monitoring data is extrapolated – virtual, not
Accurate accounting of all radioactive wastes released to the air,
water and soil from the entire reactor fuel production system is
simply not available. The system includes uranium mines and mills,
chemical conversion, enrichment and fuel fabrication plants, nuclear
power reactors, and radioactive waste storage pools, casks, and
Increasing economic pressures to reduce costs, due to the
deregulation of the electric power industry, could further reduce
the already unreliable monitoring and reporting of radioactive
releases. Deferred maintenance can increase the radioactivity
released - and the risks.
Many of the reactor’s radioactive by-products continue giving off
radioactive particles and rays for enormously long periods –
described in terms of "half-lives." A radioactive material gives off
hazardous radiation for at least ten half-lives. One of the
radioactive isotopes of iodine (iodine- 129) has a half-life of 16
million years; technetium-99 = 211,000 years; and plutonium-239 =
24,000 years. Xenon-135, a noble gas, decays into cesium-135, an
isotope with a 2.3 million-year half-life.
is scientifically established that low-level radiation damages
tissues, cells, DNA and other vital molecules – causing programmed
cell death (apoptosis), genetic mutations, cancers, leukemia, birth
defects, and reproductive, immune and endocrine system disorders.
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