Are We At The Brink Of A Major Nuclear Accident In America?
On April 26, 1986 the worst nuclear accident in history occurred at the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant in the Ukraine. Over 600,000 people were severely exposed to radiation after one of the nuclear reactors suffered a meltdown. The accident sent a plume of radioactive fallout across Eastern and Western Europe and it resulted in the evacuation of parts of Russia, the Ukraine and Belarus. Thousands of people have died of cancer due to exposure and hundreds of children have suffered birth defects. Some 24 years later, dozens of near-accidents at nuclear plants in the US have taken place, posing the question: Are we safe?
Nuclear Accidents In The US
Nuclear accidents are measured on a level scale of 1 to 7. The nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl has been the only level 7 accident that has taken place. In March 1979, there was a level 3 nuclear accident at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station, just nine miles east of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Equipment failures and worker mistakes led to partial core meltdown of a reactor. There were no injuries or deaths, but the accident caused a lot of concern and alarm over the safety of nuclear plants near cities and towns.
There have been many nuclear accidents in the US after Three Mile Island (for a partial list click here). One of these accidents took place in 2006. The accident happened at three nuclear stations owned by a company called Exelon, in Braidwood, Illinois. It was then that a nuclear material leak was discovered contaminating the groundwater under the stations. The leak had gone unnoticed for years. Last month, Exelon finally agreed to a $1 million settlement to a lawsuit filed by Will, Ogle, and Grundy counties. The money will go to fund environmental studies and research in the area near the plant to ensure the contamination is not affecting the health of their populations.
Another nuclear accident took place in 2005 at the Nuclear Fuel Services Plant in Erwin, Tennessee. There, 35-liters of a highly enriched uranium solution leaked during handling at a lab. The government kept the public in the dark after the accident — unwilling to let them know about the potentially deadly incident which could have led to an “uncontrollable nuclear reaction.” The company had been cited for safety violations prior to the accident.
According to a Greenpeace article in 2003, “The nuclear industry and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) have always maintained that the probability of an accident was low. However, neither the nuclear industry nor the NRC has been very good at estimating the probability of an accident.”
The fact is that even today these accidents, as low level as they may be, happen often. There are over 104 commercial nuclear plants in the US, not counting research reactors at universities, and the military’s own reactors. So safety is the key here, but no one should try to sleep well when some of these nuclear/utility companies are still violating safety standards, which endanger plant workers and your family.
Profits Over Public Safety?
The latest nuclear accident in the US took place in November 2009 and it happened again at Three Mile Island. According to reports, a small amount of radiation caused by a leak was detected at the plant. All 150 workers were sent home and were later tested for radiation exposure. The Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station is now run by Exelon — yes, the same company that ran the Illinois plants that leaked nuclear material into the groundwater in 2006.
Exelon happens to be the biggest nuclear plant company in the United States. On its website the company says that it is committed to safety for their workers and the public. Yet, a nuclear leak in 2006 and another in 2009, should be a cause of concern regardless of how small the accident was. Back in 2005, a New Jersey based environmental organization, NJPIRG, accused Exelon for putting profits over public safety.
This is a snippet of a released NJPIRG issued January 2005:
Exelon has put profits over safety time and time again. Whether it is staffing reductions, poor maintenance oversight or the silencing of employees with safety concerns, Exelon has enough skeletons in the closet to give pause to state regulators who will decide whether or not to approve the merger. We believe that unless Exelon fixes its safety problems, state regulators should do everything they can to oppose this merger.
A major nuclear accident in US soil can only be prevented if the government and the agencies it has created to regulate and oversee safety at nuclear plants do their job thoroughly and correctly. Nuclear accidents cost not only human lives, but also lots of money to clean up. There are people that don’t know what to do to protect themselves from radiation exposure if there is a reactor failure at a nuclear plant nearby. What’s worse, some people don’t even know that they may have a nuclear plant in their state. Do you know if your local nuclear plant is safe? Better start looking into it.