San Diego, CA January 24, 2012 – The drinking water for 2.3 million people in California 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 California Public Interest Research Group Education Fund and Environment California Research and Policy Center.
"The danger of nuclear power is too close to home. Here in California, the drinking water for 2.3 million people is too close to an active nuclear power plant," said Emily Rusch, CALPIRG Education Fund State Director. "An accident 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 2,295,738 San Diego area residents is within 50 miles of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station – the distance the Nuclear Regulatory Commission uses to measure risk to food and water supplies. Another 66,450 Californians on the Central Coast depend on drinking water supplies within 50 miles of the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant near San Luis Obispo.
Across the country, twenty-one nuclear plants sit within 50 miles of the drinking water sources of 1 million or more people.
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 U.S. nuclear facilities get older, leaks are more common. In fact, 75 percent of U.S. nuclear plants, including San Onofre, have leaked tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen that can cause cancer and genetic defects.
"Californians should never have to worry about getting cancer from drinking a glass of water," said Rusch. However, the recent history of tritium leaks at nuclear plants around the country, including here at San Onofre, reveals a troubling history of accidents."
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. Here in California, the Pacific Ocean provides the cooling water for both of our nuclear power plants.
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.
"There are far cleaner, cheaper, and less-risky ways to get our energy," added Bernadette Del Chiaro, Energy Program Director for Environment California Research and Policy Center. "California and the United States should move away from nuclear power immediately and invest in safer alternatives such as efficiency and wind and solar power."
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