Pennsyvlania Groups Warn of Nuclear Plant Dangers to Drinking Water

Nuclear plants in the U.S. and abroad are putting drinking water sources at risk, two Pennsylvania environmental groups claim. The groups pointed to the a continuing nuclear crisis in Japan that originated with last year’s catastrophic tsunami as an example of a nuclear power plant that impacted drinking water supplies thousands of miles away.

The Pennsylvania Public Interest Research Group Education Fund and PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center warned that nuclear power poses potential dangers to drinking water in a study the nonprofits released. The groups stated that 49 million Americans are drinking water that originates from within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant, according to The Times Leader.

As we’ve written, the Fukushima Daiichi plant, built by General Electric, was damaged by the massive earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan last March 11. The failure of the venting system allowed hydrogen explosions to occur, which, in turn, sent large amounts of radioactive materials into the air. While use of the venting system still would have allowed radiation to escape into the atmosphere, it would have been much less than what was released in the explosions.

Concerns about radiation from Japan prompted the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to halt the import of produce and dairy products from areas of Japan near the damaged reactors, and to screen seafood and other products imported from that country. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also stepped up monitoring of radiation in air and water in the U.S. Most recently, we wrote that radioactive material believed to be from the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was found in Japanese baby formula.

The Times Leader noted that the reactor released hundreds of times the legal limit of radioactive isotopes into the sea, forcing the Japanese government to order residents living within 12.4 miles of the plant to evacuate, and urging those within 18.6 miles to leave, as well. The U.S. government encouraged its residents living within 50 miles to evacuate.

A study found that drinking water sources from as far as 130 miles away were contaminated with radioactive iodine and believe that the drinking water supplied to thousands of Americans could be in danger; some already may have been impacted by releases of tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen, said The Times Leader. Tritium can cause cancer and increase birth defect rates when consumed regularly, said The Associated Press (AP) which noted that, in the U.S., the toxin has leaked from no less than 48 of 65 American nuclear sites examined.

The study also revealed that 59 American nuclear power plants are located within 50 miles of a reservoir or other site where surface water is taken for consumption and study authors conclude that nuclear power risks in the U.S. should force the federal government to retire existing plants no later than at the end of their current operating licenses and to abandon plans for new nuclear power plants. The team strongly suggests utilizing policies that draw on renewable sources for energy efficiency and production, said The Times Leader. The authors also suggest that the U.S. take policy steps to minimize drinking water risks originating from nuclear power.

Meanwhile, following the disaster in Japan, trace amounts of radiation were detected in air and rainwater in several U.S. states including Alaska, Alabama, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Vermont, South Carolina, and Washington. Traces of radioactive iodine-131 also turned up in samples of milk in Spokane, Washington and San Luis Obispo County, California. The EPA also detected the radioactive material iodine-131 in drinking water samples from 13 more U.S. cities.

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