Opinion, Guest Columnist
In May 1973, the Public Service Company of Oklahoma announced plans to build two nuclear reactors just east of Tulsa. But after a series of legal challenges and citizen protests, the company scrapped the plan in 1982. To this day, no reactors have ever operated in the state.
Nearly four decades later, amid a movement to revive nuclear power in the U.S., Oklahoma’s Legislature is considering bills that would allow utilities to operate nuclear reactors in the state. Much discussion focuses on the high costs of planning and building reactors (a recent Energy Department estimate is about $9 billion per reactor).
But reactors are more than just a financial issue. They are a health and safety issue. Utilities call reactors “clean” because they don’t emit greenhouse gases, but they are not “clean” at all. They generate more than 100 radioactive and cancer-causing chemicals. Those include Cesium-137, Iodine-131 and Strontium-90 – the same cocktail produced in atomic bomb explosions.
Many of those chemicals are contained in reactors and stored as waste. The long-promised permanent repository in Nevada has run into multiple problems, and the site may never open. Operating a nuclear reactor in Oklahoma would likely mean the state would be permanently stuck with the waste.
After several years of reactor operation, the amount of waste is equal to the radioactivity produced by hundreds of Hiroshima bombs. Waste is stored in deep pools of water that must be constantly cooled. Any “meltdown” – a loss of cooling water, from mechanical failure or terrorist attack – would release that huge amount of radioactivity into the air. Thousands would suffer from radiation poisoning or cancer.
Some radioactivity in reactors cannot be contained as waste, and must be routinely released into the air. Those toxic chemicals attack cells and cause cancer, especially in the young. Medical journal articles have consistently documented high rates of childhood leukemia near reactors.
While nuclear supporters claim that ample electricity can only be produced from coal or nuclear plants, there are other options – options available in Oklahoma. The state is endowed with considerable wind and sun to harness electrical power. Those sources last forever, and don’t threaten public health. In addition to those renewable sources, there is great potential to reduce electricity needs through conservation and more efficient products.
Joseph J. Mangano MPH MBA is Executive Director of the Radiation and Public Health Project, a research and education group based in New York.