Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 28, 2009

Forum: Decisions due on future energy sources

By GERALD A. DRAKE, M.D.

Our nation needs to make some major decisions on its future energy sources. Nuclear power has taken most of the federal energy and research dollars for the last 50 years, yet serious problems persist. Economically available uranium fuel could run out about the same time oil does, in 50-60 years. Serious reactor accidents have occurred at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Nobody wants the radioactive waste.

In the Jan. 12 edition of Time, Michael Grunwald wrote, "It turns out that new plants would not just be extremely expensive but spectacularly expensive ... sky high costs and uncertain financing could sink nukes again."

The 70-megawatt nuclear plant in Charlevoix cost $29 million to build in the late 1950s and $400 million to raze in the late 1990s, still leaving behind eight large cylinders of high-level radioactive waste.

We have 104 nuclear plants, some with a capacity of 1,000 megawatts.

No private utility would consider investing in a nuclear plant without additional taxpayer backing, as in France.

In the 1970s, the then-Department of Energy had plans for a high-level radioactive waste dump in the salt beds of northern Lower Michigan.

The nuclear industry promotes reprocessing "spent" fuel to extract Plutonium-239 (Pu-239) for more fuel. Pu-239 has a radioactive half life of 24,000 years and a hazardous-to-health life of 240,000 years.

-- Many years ago adult beagles were injected with small doses of Pu-239. They died from bone cancer. If they inhaled Pu-239 they died of lung cancer (Science, February 22, 1974). Extrapolating to humans, a millionth of an ounce would have the same effect.

-- In the August 2, 1997, issue of New Scientist, the British Health Department reported a study of 3,300 teeth taken from children that found levels of both Pu-239 and strontium-90 that increased directly with proximity to the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant.

-- In France, Pu-239 has been found on the Normandy beach, downstream from a nuclear reprocessing plant at LaHague. An increase in childhood cancer has been reported in children who visited the beach frequently (British Medical Journal, January 11, 1997).

-- The German Federal Radiation Protection Agency concluded that children under the age of 5 were more likely to develop leukemia if they lived near a nuclear power plant.

Dr. James Watson, a Harvard professor of molecular biology and winner of the 1962 Nobel Prize for Medicine, stated "an increasing number of our most scientific minds have very deep qualms about the widespread introduction of more nuclear power. ... I fear that when the history of this century is written, the greatest debacle of our nation will be ... our creation of vast armadas of plutonium, whose safe containment will represent a major precondition for human survival ... for thousands of years more than human civilization has so far existed."

Citizens, elected officials and industrial leaders must consider the above evidence and Watson's warning as we determine our nation's energy future.

About the author: Gerald A. Drake, M.D., of Petoskey, is a member of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

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