Holtec’s “harmless” claims are baseless
For background on the planned radioactive water dump by Holtec at the Pilgrim nuclear power plant referred to in this article, please see the article “In the dock” on this website.
By Theodore Bosen
Holtec argued that their planned nuclear dump into the bay will have a negligible environmental impact because past aqueous releases did no harm over several decades of Pilgrim’s operation. Not so!
In the mid-80s, I consumed bushels of mussels from Warren Cove, around the corner from Pilgrim. Sometime later, on behalf of the Pilgrim Alliance, I helped bring renowned physicist Ernest Sternglass of the University of Pittsburgh, to Plymouth to speak on his research into cancers surrounding nuclear plants. When I told him of my shellfish consumption, tears welled up in his eyes as he said, “Son, I’m sorry, but you are going to get thyroid cancer in 20 years, if not worse.”
I stopped eating those mussels and went to the office of the Massachusetts Radiation Control Unit to check their records on local radiological testing. They had told our community at a public hearing in 1986 that they were testing fish and shellfish around the plant at least twice a year. That turned out to be false.
Their records showed only one or two fish from somewhere in the bay, and no more recently than three years prior, plus no mollusks whatsoever. I then asked them to test the mussels around Pilgrim. They agreed, asking me to bring them two quarts of mussel meat from around the plant, fresh-frozen, which I did two days later. Their analysis identified six radionuclides which they said were consistent with fission products from the plant. An independent lab verified that.
I sent the report to Pilgrim’s operator, Boston Edison, but they disagreed. They stated it was background radiation from Chinese atmospheric tests. How I know that was a lie is that the last ever atmospheric test by the Chinese was on Oct. 16, 1980, and a couple of the isotopes in the sample had short half-lives that precluded them from being that old. I learned that day that the nuclear industry doesn’t take low-level radiation seriously and will lie.
A year later, as the person holding the designated anti-nuclear seat on the Plymouth Nuclear Matters Committee (the original charge was for at least one official “pro” organization and one official “anti” organization to be represented), I toured Pilgrim while it was shut down.
The fellow who held the “pro” seat, took me over to the spent fuel pool to look down into it through a floating plastic box attached to a string. His gloved hand pulled the string to bring the viewing box over. That string had picked up droplets of water from the spent fuel pool, which he later pressed into my back while escorting me around the pool. He was dosing me so that the radiation alarm would sound when I tried to leave.
In such case I would be prohibited from leaving until decontaminated.
He and others got the biggest laugh out of that when the alarm went off and I was sent back from the gate to disrobe and wash up. This reinforced what I had already learned: nuclear industry people think low-level radiation risk is non-existent.
Sternglass’s prediction eventually came true. I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2006.
Two dear friends, anti-Pilgrim comrades-in-arms who lived at or near the beach during my mussel-eating days, one on each side of Pilgrim, Cheryl Nickerson and Wedge Bramhall, were taken from us by cancers nearly a decade ago. My cousin Marge, who had introduced me to Warren Cove mussels and who had eaten them for years, passed two years ago from cancer.
Last month I said goodbye to my friend Renny Cushing who, at 69, lost his life to cancer. He had co-founded the Clamshell Alliance and lived in the shadow of the Seabrook nuke for decades, fighting it since its inception.
Of course, one can say my anecdotal evidence is not proof. However, Sternglass’s research became more credible as time went on, because subsequent research concluded that there is no safe amount of low-level radiation exposure!
Those who rallied on Saturday, April 16 at Plymouth Wharf in opposition to Holtec’s planned dump (and I was proud to have joined them), must gather up the science on the risks of low-level radiation, along with oceanographic research that indicates water in the bay is made up of streams and eddies within the larger body that can concentrate such a dump, keeping it from dispersing for considerable distances.
Then they must thrust all that before both state and federal regulatory bodies with jurisdiction over ocean dumping, in particular, Coastal Zone Management, with the help of Senator Markey and state legislators, and demand that the dump be prohibited.
Lastly, activists should strip two quarts of bivalve meat from around Pilgrim, get it tested to serve as a baseline, then let Holtec know that any increase in bivalve radioactivity appearing after their dump will be used in a lawsuit as sufficient evidence of harm to the seafood, fishing, and tourist industries to give them legal standing to sue.
Moreover, they should demand the NRC require Holtec to buy plenty of additional insurance.
The spirits of Wedge and Cheryl were there that Saturday, along with several past and present nuclear safety soldiers. Tap their energy and experience and you can’t fail.
This OpEd was originally published by Wicked Local and is republished with permission of the editor and author.
Headline photo by Tasmanian.Kris/Creative Commons.
The views expressed in articles by outside contributors and published on the Beyond Nuclear International website, are their own, and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Beyond Nuclear. However, we try to offer a broad variety of viewpoints and perspectives as part of our mission “to educate and activate the public about the connections between nuclear power and nuclear weapons and the need to abandon both to safeguard our future”.
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