Palisades Nuclear Plant Critics Warn Court about Catastrophic Earthquake Risks
WASHINGTON - August 23 - Atomic watchdog groups have told a federal appeals court that even a moderate earthquake affecting the Palisades atomic reactor could spell radioactive catastrophe for Lake Michigan and communities downwind and downstream.
In the face of a motion filed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to dismiss the lawsuit, citizen groups have defended their appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The suit alleges that the high-level radioactive waste storage facilities at Palisades, on the Lake Michigan shore near South Haven, violate governmental earthquake safety regulations.
“Palisades' mounting radioactive wastes put our precious Lake Michigan at risk, and thus the drinking water supply and recreational destination for millions of people downstream,” said Alice Hirt of Don't Waste Michigan in Holland.
In early August, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) moved to dismiss the citizen groups’ appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Earlier this year, NRC rejected the groups’ petition urging the agency to enforce its own regulations at Palisades. Palisades now has over 30 concrete and steel silos holding deadly irradiated nuclear fuel rods. The silos, called dry casks, rest upon two concrete pads. The concrete slabs are located upon loose sand amidst the dunes of the Lake Michigan shoreline. Some containers of radioactive waste are just 150 yards from the water.
The environmental coalition’s attorney, Terry Lodge of Toledo, said: “The NRC's numbers racket is a big fraud, endangering public health and the Great Lakes. We've exposed the hidden de-regulation of earthquake safety by the NRC. This is not ‘inadequate enforcement,’ it is zero enforcement.
“The NRC's so-called experts pretend in their calculations that the slabs holding the casks are sitting on relatively stable clay,” Lodge added. “But in fact they sit on highly unstable sand dunes, which would amplify the vibrations from an earthquake. NRC didn't count the thousands of tons of steel and concrete represented by the slabs and casks in their number-crunching. As a result, they're denying the very serious risk that these slabs, and possibly even the casks, will shatter in the event of an earthquake and release catastrophic amounts of radioactivity. Earthquakes capable of doing that have hit the Great Lakes region before.”
NRC will almost certainly file a rebuttal within the next week. Palisades’ owner, Entergy Nuclear of New Orleans, may also seek to have the case dismissed. The federal court will then take the case under advisement, meaning it will review both sides’ arguments and then render a decision at some point in the future.
“Each of the casks contains 240 to 320 times the long-lasting radioactivity released by the Hiroshima atomic bomb,” said Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear, a national watchdog group. “We must stop Palisades from generating any more of these forever deadly radioactive wastes, and safeguard and secure what’s already piled up on the beach against accidents, attacks, and leaks.”
The groups’ expert witness, Dr. Ross Landsman, can be contacted upon request. Dr. Landsman formerly served as NRC dry cask storage inspector at Palisades. He repeatedly raised warnings within the agency about the earthquake risks for over a decade, until his retirement in 2005.
For more information on concerned citizen efforts to address radioactive waste generation and storage risks at Palisades, including the most recent legal filing as well as Dr. Landsman's original 1994 letter to NRC's chairman, see http://www.nirs.org/reactorwatch/licensing/palisades.htm