OPINION | Monticello: Why?


The Monticello Nuclear Power Plant is a 600 MW boiling water reactor built in the late 1960s on the Mississippi River, 40 miles upstream from Minneapolis. It is owned and operated by Xcel Energy. The reactor design is virtually identical to the Fukushima reactors that melted and exploded during the Japanese disaster that began in 2011. Monticello was licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to operate until 2010, and has since been re-licensed to operate until 2030. This article examines the wisdom of society’s commitment to continue operating this old plant instead of available and cost-effective modern technologies.

The spent fuel storage pool, which holds massive amounts of radiation in waste fuel assemblies, is at the top of the building, immediately adjacent to an exposed exterior wall. The waste must go into the pool after removal from the reactor core because radiation is too intense for any other type of storage. If water gets drained from the pool, the waste will melt and ignite, releasing enough radiation to force the evacuation of hundreds of square miles, including, depending on weather patterns, the Twin Cities. Perhaps this explains why Big Brother needs to tap all phone calls, emails and social media messages of everyone, and take pictures of all letters and packages sent anywhere. Shutting down the reactors would allow the pool to be evacuated within several years and the waste moved to more secure locations.

Aging reactor components pose another threat. Metals get brittle over time when exposed to neutron bombardment that occurs as uranium atoms explode in the reactor core, producing heat that makes steam that spins turbines to generate electricity. Stresses, including sudden plant shut-downs, can break brittle parts that were only designed to work for the original 40 year design life of the plant, not an additional 20. It is not possible to monitor all the increasingly brittle reactor parts that could be stressed to failure during reactor operations, with potentially catastrophic consequences. Such an event could also force the evacuation of the Twin Cities. Numerous events could contaminate the Mississippi, the source of drinking water for Minneapolis.

Routine ionizing radiation released from Monticello creates immediate and ongoing adverse public health impacts to which society is oblivious. Every year, Monticello and each other reactor on Earth routinely releases many tens, if not hundreds or even thousands of Curies of radiation into air and water. One Curie equals 37,000,000,000 atomic disintegrations per second. We know conclusively from the National Academies of Science Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation (BEIR) VII Report (2005) that every exposure to ionizing radiation from each atomic disintegration, increases the risk of cancer, mutation and other diseases. There is no level of exposure that does not increase risk. These risks increase over time because the half-life of Tritium, for example, is over 12 years, so half the Tritium released 12 years ago is still available to cause biological damage today.

The question becomes: What is the acceptable level of risk? We are familiar with this question because we drive, and buy food. The difference is that when we drive and buy food, we have a right to know. Highways are littered with signs, and detailed labels inform food decisions. With radiation risks, you have NO right to know. Routine releases are reported to the NRC, but radiation monitoring does not identify dispersion patterns.

Yet, it is certain that routine radiation releases from Monticello disperse in patterns that create hot spots. It is certain that people live in and pass through those hot spots. It is therefore certain that those hot spots elevate levels of disease and premature death in our communities. But our local, state and federal government authorities, Xcel Energy and the nuclear industry are all silent about this systematic assault on public health. Without proper radiation monitoring, the assault will continue. So will the corporate profiteering enabled by public ignorance, even though we know, from Fukushima, North Korean nuclear adventures and a Russian spy killed with Polonium 210, that technology exists to monitor radiation with extraordinarily precise detail.

If you are tired of having no choice but to participate in nuclear abuse simply because you assert your right to use electricity, there are two simple things you can do:

Contact your state and federal elected officials and tell them to pass a law requiring radiation monitoring at nuclear power plants that is sufficient to define the radiological environment created by routine releases, and to make that information easily accessible to the public.

If you live in Minneapolis, get involved with Minneapolis Energy Options. Google it. This campaign has the potential to shut down dirty, obsolete and dangerous power plants, and bring energy services to Minneapolis that are clean, affordable and reliable, and that provide local economic benefits.

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