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Meghan Hess,
PIRGIM Education Fund

Nuclear Power Plants Threaten Drinking Water for 1.5 Million Michiganders

Detroit Is the 6th Largest City in the Country with Water Supplies at Risk
For Immediate Release

DETROIT, MI – The drinking water for over 1.5 million people in Michigan could be at risk of radioactive contamination from a leak or accident at a local nuclear power plant, says a new study released today by the Public Interest Research Group in Michigan Education Fund and the Environment Michigan Research and Policy Center. 

“The danger of nuclear power is too close to home.  Here in Michigan, the drinking water for over 1.5 million people is too close to an active nuclear power plant,” said Meghan Hess, PIRGIM program associate.  “An accident like the one in Fukushima, Japan or a leak could spew cancer-causing radioactive waste into our drinking water.”

The nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, Japan last year drew a spotlight on the many risks associated with nuclear power. After the disaster, airborne radiation left areas around the plant uninhabitable, and even contaminated drinking water sources near Tokyo, 130 miles from the plant.

According to the new report, “Too Close to Home: Nuclear Power and the Threat to Drinking Water,” the drinking water for 1,521,523 people in Michigan is within 50 miles of an active nuclear power plant – the distance the Nuclear Regulatory Commission uses to measure risk to food and water supplies. Also, the 899,387 residents who receive their water from the City of Detroit drinking water system get their drinking water from a source within 50 miles of a nuclear plant.

Radiation from a disaster like the one in Fukushima can contaminate drinking water and food supplies, as well as harm our health.  But disaster or no disaster, a common leak at a nuclear power plant can also threaten the drinking water for millions of people.  As our nuclear facilities get older, leaks are more common.  In fact, 75 percent of U.S. nuclear plants have leaked tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen that can cause cancer and genetic defects. 

Local bodies of water also play a critical role in cooling nuclear reactors and are at risk of contamination.  In the case of the Fukushima meltdown, large quantities of seawater were pumped into the plant to cool it, and contaminated seawater then leaked and was dumped back into the ocean, carrying radioactivity from the plant with it.  The Detroit River and Lake Erie provide cooling water for the Fermi 2 plant in Monroe, and could be at risk. 

“With nuclear power, there’s too much at risk and the dangers are too close to home.  Michiganders shouldn’t have to worry about getting cancer from drinking a glass of water,” said Hess. 

The report recommends that the United States moves to a future without nuclear power by retiring existing plants, abandoning plans for new plants, and expanding energy efficiency and the production clean, renewable energy such as wind and solar power.

In order to reduce the risks nuclear power poses to water supplies immediately, the report recommends completing a thorough safety review of U.S. nuclear power plants, requiring plant operators to implement recommended changes immediately and requiring nuclear plant operators to implement regular groundwater tests in order to catch tritium leaks, among other actions. 

"Our Great Lakes are an international treasure," said Nick Schroeck, executive director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center. "On top of the threat from radioactive contamination, nuclear facilities withdraw massive amounts of freshwater for cooling. These enormous water withdrawals add further stress to a Great Lakes ecosystem already under assault from invasive species and climate change."

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