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.
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).