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TRENTON – The drinking water for 3,286,373 people in New Jersey 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 New Jersey Public Interest Research Group Law & Policy Center and the Environment New Jersey Research and Policy Center.
“The danger of nuclear power is too close to home. Here in New Jersey, the drinking water for over 3.2 million people is too close to an active nuclear power plant,” said Jen Kim, NJPIRG Advocate. “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 3,286,373 people in New Jersey 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 8 million residents of New York City receive their drinking water from a source within 50 miles of a nuclear plant.
“Ionizing radiation is one of the most well established causes of cancer, particularly among children,” said Daniel Wartenberg, Ph.D, Director of the Division of Environmental Epidemiology at UMDNJ. “To protect the public health, we must reduce and eliminate all exposures to ionizing radiation, including any attributable to nuclear power plants.”
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.
New Jersey’s nuclear plants are no strangers to leaks. In 2002 radiation was discovered on the shoes of workers at the Salem plant in South Jersey that lead to the discovery of a leak into the nearby groundwater that had been ongoing for at least five years before it was discovered. The Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station, located in Lacey Township, has leaked tritium over 20 times.
"Oyster Creek poses a daily threat to our environment and health," said Janet Tauro, chair of the board of directors for the New Jersey Environmental Federation and founding member of GRAMMES (Grandmothers, Mothers, and More for Energy Safety). “Tritium leaks that soared hundreds of times above government standards contaminated two New Jersey aquifers. It is long overdue for this plant to shut down."
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 Barnegat Bay and Delaware River provides cooling water for the Oyster Creek and Salem nuclear plants in New Jersey and could be at risk.
“With nuclear power, there’s too much at risk and the dangers are too close to home. New Jerseyans shouldn’t have to worry about getting cancer from drinking a glass of water,” said Kim.
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 drinking water is too important to risk radiation contamination,” said Assembly Homeland Security and State Preparedness Chairwoman Annette Quijano (D-Union). “New Jersey needs to be proactive in its handling of nuclear plant safety, as any lapse in oversight could affect literally millions of people.”
“There are far cleaner, cheaper, and less-risky ways to get our energy,” concluded Matt Elliott Environment New Jersey Clean Energy Advocate. “New Jersey and the United States should move away from nuclear power immediately and invest in safer alternatives such as efficiency and wind and solar power.”
The New Jersey Public Interest Research Group is a nonprofit, nonpartisan consumer advocacy group. Follow us online facebook.com/njpirg and twitter.com/njpirg
Environment New Jersey is a state-wide citizen-based environmental group working for clean air, clean water, and open spaces. www.environmentnewjersey.org
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