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Weigh all health risks before allowing a new nuke reactor
Joseph J. Mangano, MPH, MBA

Letters To The Editor
Syracuse Post Standard
Thursday, March 19, 2009

Just 35 miles northwest of downtown Syracuse is the Nine Mile Point/Fitzpatrick nuclear plant. With three reactors, it is one of the largest plants in the country (only seven have three reactors).

But some believe three reactors are not enough. Constellation Energy - bolstered by the French national nuclear company's recent purchase of nearly half the company -- has proposed a new reactor at the site. If approved, it would be the largest in the United States.

A federal safety review of the proposal will soon be made. It is a sure bet that regulators will declare it risk-free, as they are in the process of rubber-stamping proposals for 30 new reactors across the United States.

Nuclear reactors are harmful. They do not emit greenhouse gases but instead create more than 100 radioactive chemicals, including Iodine-131, which attacks the thyroid gland; Strontium-90, which seeks out the bone; and Cesium-137, which enters muscle. Each causes cancer, and is especially hazardous to infants and children.

Most radioactivity is stored as waste at each plant, and must constantly be cooled with water. The federal proposal to send waste to a final repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada has bogged down and may never open. Nine Mile Point/Fitzpatrick already holds the equivalent of hundreds of Hiroshima bombs of radioactivity; a new reactor would add considerably more.

Any loss of cooling water to a reactor core or waste area, from terrorist attack or mechanical failure, would result in a meltdown. Huge amounts of radioactivity would be released into the air. The Syracuse area could not be evacuated in time, and thousands would suffer and die from radiation poisoning and cancer.

The existing three reactors at Nine Mile Point/Fitzpatrick are aging, their parts are corroding, and they are being run nearly 100 percent of the time -- the nuclear equivalent of running an old car into the ground. The unthinkable horror of a Chernobyl-type meltdown may not be likely, but it is a reality. Moreover, the new, larger reactors would generate more radioactivity than existing ones, and nearly double the casualties from a meltdown.

In addition, local residents may be harmed by reactors, even without a meltdown. Some of the 100-plus chemicals must be routinely released into the air and water as gases and particles. They enter human bodies through breathing and the food chain. Emission levels from Nine Mile Point/Fitzpatrick have historically exceeded most U.S. reactors.

Many factors can cause cancer, but radiation exposure must be considered as one. This potential link should be examined before any decisions are made to build a large, new reactor at Nine Mile Point.

A safer approach to meeting the area's electrical needs would be to develop renewable, non-polluting energy sources. In particular, wind power on land and off Lake Ontario holds great promise for the local area, while preserving the health of its people.

Joseph J. Mangano MPH MBA is Executive Director of the Radiation and Public Health Project, a research and education group based in New York.

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