Victoria Advocate (Texas)
Exelon Nuclear contends that its plan to build two new nuclear reactors will benefit Victoria County. The reactors will generate new jobs and tax revenue, they say, while creating electricity that Texas needs.
But company officials don’t talk about the health risks the reactors will create. And public health, not economics or energy, should be the most critical aspect of the plan.
Over 100 chemicals are created by nuclear reactors as waste, the same as those in atomic bombs. Each of these, including Cesium-137, Iodine-129, Strontium-90, and Plutonium-239, is radioactive and cancer-causing. Some decay slowly, and remain in dangerous amounts for thousands of years. They must be stored in deep, constantly cooled pools of water in reactors to keep them from escaping into the air, water, and food.
If a meltdown occurred from an accident or terrorist attack, the consequences would be devastating. Radioactive gases and particles would be breathed by residents unable to escape, and many thousands would suffer and die from cancer or radiation poisoning.
In addition to meltdowns, all reactors must release a portion of the 100-plus chemicals into the local air and water. Radioactivity enters local bodies through breathing and the food chain, killing and injuring healthy cells, and leading to cancer. They are especially harmful to the fetus, infant, and child.
There is considerable evidence that residents near existing reactors have suffered from exposure. In Matagorda County, the two South Texas Project reactors began operating in 1988 and 1989, and local residents have been exposed to radioactive chemicals since.
A generation ago, before South Texas Project began operations, Matagorda had the 115th highest cancer death rate of 254 Texas counties. But in this decade, its rank has now rocketed to 28th highest. Its rate of cancer incidence (cases) is 18th highest in the state.
A review of recent public health statistics shows that Victoria County residents are already burdened by high cancer rates. Cancer incidence in the county – for children and adults - is well above the state rate, and higher than 11 of the 12 most populated Texas counties. With over 400 county residents diagnosed with cancer each year, there is enough cancer among local residents, without adding another source of pollution.
After construction, there would be 800 new jobs at a new nuclear plant. Many would be taken by outside experts with special skills, not local residents. A few hundred jobs aren’t worth the risk, as the county’s population is 87,000 and rising.
The good news is that a place like Texas doesn’t have to turn to nuclear power. It has ample wind and sun to provide electricity to its residents. These are “renewable” resources – they will exist forever, and ones with no cancer risk. Texas should choose the safer option.
Joseph J. Mangano MPH MBA is Executive Director of the Radiation and Public Health Project, a research and educational organization based in New York.