Our environmental guru is not happy over increased production of tritium
“There are no jobs on a dead planet.” — Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation
Did you hear there’s a fabulous Pokémon Go game you should play? Did you hear that Taylor Swift is feuding with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian? Did you hear that Watts Bar Nuclear Reactor #1 has been given permission to increase the amount of radioactive tritium they produce for bomb making?
You likely answered yes to the first two questions and no to the third. The first two belong in the “who cares” category. They just take up time. We become so distracted by tweet size news of no societal import that we never hear life-sustaining information. Perhaps we would rather dwell on meaningless news rather than do something. After all, we are too busy.
That third question calls attention to leakage of tritium into Tennessee River drinking water. Tritium, an isotope of hydrogen, is a radiation hazard when inhaled or ingested in food or water. The U.S. Department of Energy gets it from nuclear plants like Watts Bar for bombs (how many bombs do we need?), but some leaks out into soil, water and air during the process.
As the usual concerns are raised, the nuclear industry folks say don’t worry about radiation health concerns. Be happy because tritium with a half-life of 12.3 years leaves your body in urine after only 7 to 14 days. In fact, not all of it leaves since it is part of water. While in you it bangs around amongst your cell walls likely impacting your DNA, causing genetic mutations and cancer as well as damage to brain, sperm and fetal development. That’s pretty scary.
More questions: Have you heard about Small Modular Reactors (SMRs)? Coal and nuclear industries are trying to find ways to survive as we move to cleaner, safer energy sources. With all U.S. nuclear plants aging and too costly to build new ones, the industry believes SMRs are gold.
Did you hear that TVA submitted an early site application seeking approval to use a Clinch River site near Oak Ridge to build a prototype small modular reactor? Oh, there is no design as of yet and the site is full of karst topography and sinkholes, but never mind, these small 300-megawatt reactors including tritium can be buried in the ground near you.
This is truly money down a sinkhole that we could be spending on solar, wind and energy efficiency. The idea that nuclear plants emit less greenhouse gases and solve climate change is neither true nor an acceptable tradeoff for more radiation and the creation of radioactive trash landfills.
Last question: Why are we not moving full-speed-ahead to slow climate change impacts as we experience extreme higher temperatures, long droughts, catastrophic floods, agricultural failures, and loss of water quantity and biodiversity? Tennessee is known for its many endemic aquatic species and its hardwoods economy.
There are also environmental refugees from coastlines moving here too. It’s easy to use up time learning things on social media that require nothing of you. Spend time and money on meaningful information and actions to make this a better place.
Sandra Kurtz is an environmental community activist and is presently working through the Urban Century Institute. You can visit her website to learn more at enviroedu.net