by keith harmon snow
I have swum in the Deerfield and Connecticut Rivers. Perhaps this is foolish of me. These rivers are beautiful, they appear reasonably clean, they draw me in to their ominous currents, their tranquility, their wild nature. There was a time when I didn’t know what I was doing. Later I made a conscious choice. What distinguished that choice from the blind choices of so many other people however, is my personal awareness of the insidious and deadly nature of the nuclear reactors on both rivers.
People swim in these rivers. People eat the fish. Tourists and adventurers raft the whitewaters of the Deerfield. These paying customers are not informed of the potential health risks due to upstream radiation releases. Corporate responsibility -- in a just and honest world -- dictates that people be informed of the risk. Public health departments have a responsibility to alert the public of radioactive threats.
There is a tacit policy of nondisclosure by the local tourism industry, local media, boards of health and – lest we forget the source – the multinational nuclear corporations. There is an ethical dilemma in not informing people that the nuclear plant upstream has dumped, and continues to dump, radioactive waste into the river. Indeed, and instead, theirs is an active and profitable campaign of disinformation.
Circa 1961 Yankee Atomic Electric Company (YAEC) in Rowe (MA) began their now historical operations on the Deerfield River. The next four decades saw standard operations dumping nuclear waste into the Deerfield River valley through airborne and aquatic effluent releases.
Always defined “safe” by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, amongst the radiotoxic byproducts YAEC has confirmed present in these releases are cesium-137, cobalt-60, strontium-90 and tritium. Cesium 137 decays to cesium 133 – an isotope with a radioactive half-life longer than your imagination (can imagine).
Think about it. Cesium-133 has a half-life of three million years. That’s the time it takes for just half of the initial volume to decay. And decay doesn’t mean that it has gone anywhere…its just radiating around out there in our spaces. Of course, according to the industry, such radiotoxins are always beneath the background levels of radiation – like the industry PR people, background levels are amorphous moving targets. They are arbitrarily defined and ever modified to confirm the deceptive science of nuclear propagandists. With every radioactive release, the background level of the environment rises. As background rises, so do NRC standards for safety. This is the insidious heart of the nuclear deception.
Shut down thanks to concerned local citizens in 1991, and now being decommissioned, YAEC has for the past decade pursued their “clean-up” by flushing the radioactivity of the reactor site into the river. Stripping the reactor and shipping the irradiated hardware and soils out and dumping them on the economically impoverished community of Barnwell, South Carolina, YAEC has pursued methods of flushing and diluting to effectively “disappear” unmanageable contamination.
Bald eagle’s are routinely sited by YAEC as evidence of a thriving ecology in the reactor vicinity. Just above Sherman Dam, the muddy sediments at the outpipe to the Yankee Atomic reactor cooling system -- submerged beneath the tranquil surface of Sherman Pond -- are so lethally contaminated that YAEC experts in cryptic and secretive discussions with Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulators confirmed that these profoundly contaminated sediments were too hot to handle. Yankee decided to leave the waste. The NRC nodded their approval.
Imagine this: You could, if you so desired, row a boat out into Sherman Pond, dive down and scoop up some of this incredibly nasty irradiated sludge. Storm and flood damage could also displace these sediments. Worse still, YAEC seeks to allow public access to this site. (This information is very readily available to interested parties.)
Faced with the impossibility of cleaning up the public sediments, YAEC spent their time and energy and hundreds of thousands in advertising dollars in Valley newspapers cleaning up the public sentiments. This has profound ethical implications, as Yankee Rowe and other reactors go through the motions of decommissioning. Nuclear waste is too hot to handle, insidious and deadly, lasting forever, and there is no place to put it. This means flushing, shuffling, burying and dumping the waste in places which can’t, won’t and don’t contain it.
The newspapers for their part – while taking in thousands of dollars in advertising revenues for disingenuous public relations advertorials – have pretended to cover nuclear power with that standard American journalistic practice of “objectivity.” Funny how billion dollar corporations are always right, always quoted, never seriously questioned. Meanwhile, the citizens have to prove beyond all reasonableness that their cancers have any basis in fact. There is very little if any unbiased news attention to burgeoning radioactive contamination. These corporations are getting away with murder. Worse still, they get all kinds of public subsidies to do so.
Remember that NRC regulators are always former or future nuclear industry careerists intent only on regulating public awareness, and limiting public oversight and involvement. These are people whose livelihoods and self-interests revolve around the trillion dollar economic and ecological boondoggle of nuclear power. People whose interests – like the interests of big tobacco – revolve around lies, lies and more lies.
Thus Mr. Bush, with our unquestioning nuclear media, can ever declare the sanctity of nuclear power. Having invested a billion dollars into nuclear propaganda over the past sixty years, we have yet another U.S. President touting nuclear power as a viable, clean, safe energy alternative. It is not: Every stage of the nuclear fuel cycle grossly contributes to climate change.
George Bush’s insanity is at issue here. Reminds me of Radiation Ronny. Prior to his Presidency, Ronald Reagan was for years a key spokesman and speech-giver -- ever bringing good things like armaments, munitions, PCBs and nuclear waste to life – for GE nuclear. Recall that this is the guy who defended cutting school lunch programs with the justification that “ketchup is a vegetable.”
Along with the horrific US government spectacles of the Contras and the Star Wars weapons program, the Reagan Era ushered in new standards of deceit in the radiation and cancer arena. Radiation studies compromised by industry and widely regurgitated by the newspapermen found nuclear power clean, emissions-free AND safe. What a bargain, at billions and billions of dollars in public taxation. Meanwhile, circa 1983, Reagan and his corporate cabal successfully annihilated all emerging solar technology – setting solar back twenty years, further entrenching genocidal energy corporations and their ecological and democratic hostility.
But radiation studies not compromised by big nuclear money – and there are plenty of these hidden from the public – have documented the burgeoning epidemics of disease. Radiation reconcentrates in the environment. It is cumulative, collecting in plants, soils, and the silt of rivers. It collects in the tissues of organisms -- where it irradiates muscle cells and nearby organs. Indeed, YAEC studies of the Deerfield River Valley found radiation in cow’s milk. YAEC also found a complete absence of trout in Sherman Pond. Now this is supposed to be a healthy, New England river ecosystem. No trout? (Ask George W. Bush: If ketchup is a vegetable, is a trout an organism?)
Remember that Madame Curie died of cancer and a curie is a large unit of radiation and consider a few facts available to interested people at the NRC public document room at Greenfield Community College. Over 10,000 curies of radioactivity were dumped into the Deerfield from 1966 to 1973. Some 136,000 curies of waste were removed from Yankee Rowe between 1991 and 1995 in an unconstitutional and illegal rush-job called “Early Component Removal.” There were 110 cases of worker contamination in April and May of 1994, and the containment vessel had to be evacuated when radiation levels soared during the experimental reactor disassembly. Experimental methods, unregulated releases, and worker contamination continued to plague YAEC throughout the 1990s’.
Thanks to the relentless intervening by the Charlemont based Citizen’s Awareness Network (CAN), the Mass Department of Public Health (MDPH) investigated and conferred in 1994 that there was statistical evidence of epidemics of cancers, birth defects and leukemias in the Deerfield River Valley. In one study of health effects due to radiation releases at Pilgrim Nuclear (MA), Dr. Robert Knorr (MDPH) found a four-fold increase in leukemias. Children and pregnant women are most at risk.
Daily releases – occurring at some 103 reactors nationwide – continue to concentrate radioactivity in our aquatic and terrestrial resources.
These plants were shoddily designed, experimental, rushed into operation. They are crumbling behemoths, leaking, polluting, spewing nuclear waste. Next=generation nuclear may have some some of the problems, but the daily dumping and flushing of radioactive waste – no accident – is a design necessity.
As for the Connecticut River, the fish are bigger, the currents stronger -- the radioactive releases from Vermont Yankee greater by volume and frequency. In 1976 some 86,000 gallons of radioactive tritium were released into the Connecticut. (These are NOT isolated incidents; they are standard nuclear practice.) Decades of standard operation led to daily dumping and flushing of radioactivity. And, like Yankee Rowe, Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Facility has a Spent Fuel Pool contaminated with spent fuel rods in a radioactive soup capable of melting superman down to a mound of mutant slag.
Spent Fuel Pools are always being flushed with the adjacent rivers. Contamination in the YAEC Spent Fuel Pool (1995) exceeded 1,000,000 curies due to a single reactor component later shipped out and buried (NC). Of course, there are filters…and there are filter failures… and no matter the level of radioactivity that seeps, spills or is dumped into the river, it is always declared safe, never a cause for public concern.
In 1997 a routine water sampling turned up a chunk of cobalt-60 in the sediments of the Connecticut River – in Vernon, downstream from Vermont Yankee. Cobalt-60 is a nasty and lethal radiotoxin. Nuclear officials quickly reassured the public. Engineers played it down, arguing that “cobalt-60 has been detected in the Connecticut River in previous years.”
That’s the part that always shocks me. The way they tell me – in all seriousness – how there’s no cause for public concern. I have remembered that chunk of cobalt-60 every time I chose to swim in these rivers. But mine is an informed decision. I own the choice. In the end, I would own the cancer.
End—and it really will be.