William Thien

What Is More Important, Nuclear Power or Fresh Water?

Posted on: September 12, 2011

I’m pro-nuclear power, yet I live near Lake Michigan and much of the water I use during the day comes from that lake. So does the water one hundred million people use.

The water used to cool two nuclear power plants, The Point Beach and Kewaunee Nuclear Power Plants, comes from that lake as well. Lake Michigan is not the ocean but a closed ecosystem as I’ve described before. It takes close to 100 years for Lake Michigan to cycle pollution out of itself, one hundred years. Just think how long it would take for radiation that lasts thousands of years.

So, what’s more important, electricity derived from nuclear power or fresh water? Perhaps I should rephrase that question to, What’s more precious, nuclear power or fresh water?

For most of us, the answer to that question is fairly obvious and becoming more so as time progresses and clean water becomes more scarce. Fresh water that we can drink is obviously more precious.

The reason I ask the question is the result of the disaster at Tepco Nuclear Power Plant in Fukushima, Japan. Lately, there have been news stories about how much radiation has been leaking into the ocean surrounding the Tepco Plant, both currently in the form of cooling water runoff and from the initial explosions following the earthquake which sent radioactive particles into the air that in turn end up in the ocean within rain and that simply settle into the water.

Huge amounts of radiation have been found in the ocean water and scientists believe it will show up in the water around the world in a matter of time and then in the fish some of us eat.

“Well, what’s it got to do with us,” you might be asking? “It’s not a threat to us if we avoid eating the fish.” Perhaps. But there is a parallel to our situation here in the Midwest.

The two nuclear power plants located on the shore, Point Beach and Kewaunee, represent a significant threat to the drinking water of the cumulation of communities that surround Lake Michigan and use its water for drinking and bathing purposes. Were one of those two nuclear power plants to suffer a meltdown due to any number of circumstances, perhaps a terrorist attack, it is likely that Lake Michigan water would need to be used to directly cool the nuclear pile and as a result, Lake Michigan water would be contaminated with high levels of toxic radiation. And it is likely that the water would no longer be drinkable as a result.

The Great Lakes are the largest fresh water system in the world that is surrounded by a significant population which relies on the water. Were that water no longer available to drink, it would have catastrophic effects on the communities surrounding Lake Michigan. Major cities along the shore of Lake Michigan would be turned into ghost towns. Of course this would have a global economic impact as well as the Midwest is the breadbasket of America and much of the world.

I think that serious consideration should be paid by the NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) to licensure revocation of the two plants unless they can come up with alternative plans during a plant disaster such as a meltdown or worse, an explosion such as at the Tepco Plant in Japan.

There are legal questions which have already probably been argued in court, such as is the water part of “The Commons” and so forth, which is an antiquated way of looking at natural resources. But this is another matter altogether and may fall within the purvey of national security. Nevertheless, it seems to me that a renewal of concern over the danger of having the nuclear power plants within such close proximity to the world’s largest fresh water supply may be necessary. It doesn’t take an act of terrorism to create the problems we are seeing in Japan. An earthquake, perhaps a tornado, a plane crash, any number of disasters could render the waters in Lake Michigan poisonous for hundreds of years. Why chance it?

AS I’ve said, I’m pro-nuclear power. But this is a special circumstance. There simply is too much at stake. This isn’t about a nuclear plant on the shore of the ocean where we do not drink the water in the first place, or on a river where water can be drawn above a nuclear plant if there is an accident, this is about contaminating the water in a closed ecosystem that takes a hundred years to self clean.

Again, why chance it? Why take the risk?

Copyright © William Thien 2011

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