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Health threat of nuclear plant should be studied
Joseph J. Mangano, MPH, MBA

Letters To The Editor Civic Forum
Portsmouth (OH) Daily Times
Thursday, July 2, 2009

A coalition of three large corporations has just announced plans to build a new nuclear power reactor at the Portsmouth site in Piketon.

The Portsmouth site has been, and still is, a big mess. Nearly 50 years of enriching uranium for nuclear weapons and reactors left a sad legacy of contamination at the site, which will probably take at least 40 years and billions of federal dollars to clear. A new plant that converts depleted uranium hexafluoride set to open at Portsmouth next year will only add to the contamination.

Building a new reactor at the site would expose construction workers and reactor workers to contamination that now exists at the site. Nuclear plants also harm local residents. In the 1950s and 1960s, when Portsmouth first operated, the cancer death rate in Pike County was 12 percent below the U.S. rate. But in this decade, the rate is now 7 percent above the U.S. This reversal could be due to exposure to the harmful chemicals produced at Portsmouth.

Nuclear power reactors have been promoted by their supporters as “clean energy” since they don’t release greenhouse gases. But they’re far from clean. Reactors create over 100 radioactive chemicals – the same chemicals in atomic bomb fallout. These toxins, which include Strontium-90, Iodine-131, and Cesium-137, enter the body through breathing and the food chain, and cause cancer.

A reactor meltdown – from an accident such as Chernobyl or a terrorist attack – would be catastrophic. Huge amounts of deadly radiation would be released into the air, and local residents could not be evacuated safely. Hundreds of thousands would be stricken with radiation poisoning or cancer. Even cities such as Cincinnati and Columbus, both 70 miles from Portsmouth, would be affected.

Along with a meltdown, reactors routinely emit a portion of these chemicals into the air and water. Even though these are relatively small amounts, experts agree there is no safe level of radiation exposure, especially to infants and children.

The drive for more nuclear power ignores the fact that safe and renewable forms of electricity are available. Wind, solar, geothermal power can be produced forever, whereas nuclear power (which uses uranium) will run out eventually. More importantly, they create no harmful chemicals that cause harm in humans.

The lessons of the past 50 years should be more than enough for people to oppose the plan for a new nuclear reactor at Portsmouth, and to support more vigorous development of safe, renewable energy.

Joseph J. Mangano MPH MBA
Executive Director of the Radiation and Public Health Project
New York

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