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More Leaks from Vermont Yankee Pose More Health Threats

After the Vermont legislature voted against a re-licensing of its nuclear power plant (as reported earlier), things actually got worse. More radioactive isotopes, which are cobalt-60, caesium-137, zinc-65 and manganese-64 were confirmed in soil and water contamination tests. These leaks have as of today not been stopped and pose a serious health risk for local residents as well as citizens living downstream the Connecticut River. According to the online Boston Globe one official of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), John White, assured the public that these leaks were “very, very low” and therefore no threat to the public. Vermont’s nuclear reactor is still running, despite occurring leaks and citizen’s concerns.

Map from Vermont Department of Health showing radioactive tritium reaching CT River

How dangerous could these leaks be if NRC officials deem it not necessary to shut down the plant until these leaks can be completely eliminated? Cobalt-60 for example, is a human made element and a by-product of the nuclear power industry. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) fact sheet cobalt-60 can be ingested (such as through water for example), and inhaled through dust, but it poses the greatest threat externally. The reason for this is that cobalt-60 radiates gamma rays, which increase the risk of developing cancer. Inhaled cobalt-60 moves from the lungs to the body tissue also increasing cancer risk. If ingested, part of it is excreted; part of it is deposited in the liver and irradiates the body with a half-life (the time it takes to decompose) of 800 days.

Caesium-137 has the same health effects as cobalt, mainly it increases the risk for cancer, but it has a much longer half-life of 30 years. However the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warn that large amounts of caesium-137, such as from fallout from nuclear power plant accidents for example, can cause radiation sickness and even death.

It is clear the any leakage from nuclear power stations pose serious health risks for the public. To avoid further risks it is in the interest of all citizens to shut down Vermont Yankee as soon as possible. For information on how to get involved for a healthier future, please visit Vermont’s action organization Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG).


  • John Farmer 5 years ago

    Jenni Belotserkovsky,

    Through out your little anti nuclear diatribe you didn’t illustrate once how this level of contamination is harmful to the public. The reason why you could not site any peer reviewed scientific studies to back up your assertion that this containment breach at Yankee is harmful to the public is because there is no legitimate science out there that can make that claim. Just because advance scientific equipment is able to detect the smallest of amounts of radioactive nuclides does not mean that very small detectable levels of contamination is harmful to the public.

    Fighting on the side of science over that of fear,


  • John Farmer 5 years ago

    You know Jenni when I worked for USPIRG we where doing something that helped the public which was working to pass the reauthorization of the clean air act. And at the end of the day we knew we helped raise the level of air quality for all Americans. What you and VPIRG are currently doing is promoting a political position that harms Americans.
    “25,000 Americans die every year due to particulate pollution that comes from the burning of coal”-US EPA
    When Yankee closes the NE will rely more heavily on coal for its electrical needs. Thus people will die. It is like you and VPIRG are an unknowing pawn for the fossil fuel industry.
    Many an anti nuclear activist has seen the light and are now supporters of nuclear energy. Their ranks include famous environmentalist like James Lovelock, Stewart Brand, and Patrick Moore. It is not too late for you to make a change that will save lives. I now it will be lonely path for you but sometimes you have to make sacrifices for what is ri

  • Jenni Belotserkovsky 5 years ago

    Dear Mr. Farmer,
    I am glad about any open debate. You are of course right that coal mining is a serious risk for the environment as well as for our health. I believe you may have read my other articles as well, in which I argue that this could be the time for Vermonters to develop alternative and renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, instead of coal and nuclear power.
    As for your argument that I provide no information on scientific studies, I am unfortunately bound to a restricted amount of words I may write. However, there are indeed various scientists that will provide you the scientific data that proves that low-level radiation is harmful. Here are some examples you could look up:
    A medical researcher on low-level radiation:
    A physicist on low-level radiation:
    A Professor of nuclear/physical chemistry on low-level radiation:

  • StopAndThink 5 years ago

    Why do you think that the leak is still on going; just because some soil samples are testing positive for radionuclides? If you spill something on the floor and it lands on the rug, it doesn't mean it's STILL spilling on the floor because you've realized it's on the rug...

    The soil water samples you mention just confirm that there was leakage at some point. The fact of the matter is all the monitoring wells indicate the leak is fxed. Visual inspection indicates the leak is fixed. Guess what... the leak is fixed. These contaminants (Co-60, Cs-137, Zn-65, Mn-54) are most likely there as a result of the leak, but they do not behave like tritium and are particulate in naterure which means they are held up in the soil of the immediate area of the release and will not migrate as tritiated ground water does. These isotopes are not entirely unexpected, and pose no threat to anyone. Because they are held up by the soil it will remain there (not spreading) until it is removed.

  • Jenni Belotserkovsky 5 years ago

    Unfortunately soil does migrate, rain moves it towards the river, or when dried out, it turns into dust, which can be blown by the wind anywhere. Contaminated soil can even reach the food chain, as fish can consume microscopic particles of contaminated soil, these fish are consumed by larger fish, which themselves can serve as food for people. If contaminated soil reaches the waterways, it can irradiate the water itself as well. Hence, contamination with radioactive particles does not stop when a leak is fixed.

  • Alice Dark 5 years ago

    How can you in good conscious write that wind and solar could possibly replace baseload energy providers such as nuclear and coal? As John Droz Jr., a Sierra Club member and physicist, said, we should not be wasting time and money on "illusory" solutions such as wind power.

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