By Arnie Gundersen, Chief Engineer, Fairewinds Energy Education
More than four years after the triple meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi, many radioactive isotopes created inside the reactors as nuclear waste, including cesium, strontium, and plutonium, continue to bleed into the Pacific Ocean. Even though the Pacific Ocean contains more than 700 million cubic kilometers of water, low concentrations of radioactivity have already migrated across the Pacific to the Vancouver and Alaskan coasts as Fukushima Daiichi slowly contaminates the largest body of water on Earth.
The Pacific Ocean is 30,000 times larger than all the Great Lakes combined, and the once pristine watershed of the Great Lakes is now home to 30 nuclear power reactors. Eighteen of these nuclear reactors have the unique Canadian CANDU design and are located in Ontario Province at Bruce (8), Pickering (6) and Darlington (4), while 12 are US designs located at nine site locations in Michigan, New York State, Ohio, and Wisconsin. In addition, several temporary nuclear waste storage sites on Lake Huron near the Bruce site are in imminent danger of becoming permanent nuclear waste dumps that will be abandoned underground within one mile of the Lake.
Imagine the 39-year-old Bruce station on Lake Huron or the 44-year-old Palisades plant in Michigan on Lake Michigan having a meltdown like Fukushima Daiichi did in March 2011. The concentration of radioactive waste in the water would be roughly 30,000 times higher in the Great Lakes than in the Pacific Ocean after the triple meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi. Think of the devastation that would occur as 40,000,000 people lose their water supply and the crops along these waterways are contaminated with nuclear waste for decades if not hundreds of years as the St. Lawrence River flows right past Montreal and Quebec City. What are the commercial ramifications for cities along the Great Lakes or the St. Lawrence River when ocean freighters choose to no longer travel there for fear of contaminating the vessels?
Is a meltdown possible at one of the 30 reactors upstream from Montreal and Quebec City? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Counting Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and the three meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi, there have been five meltdowns during the last 35-years. Three entirely different reactor designs in three different countries on three different continents have melted down spewing nuclear waste materials to many other areas. History shows that there will likely be a nuclear meltdown about once every seven years.
Where will the next meltdown be? There is no crystal ball with that answer, but engineers do know that the older a nuclear plant becomes, the more likely it will break. So could that meltdown be in older plants with the unique Canadian CANDU design at Bruce, Pickering or Darlington, in old embrittled plants like Palisades on Lake Michigan, or in any of the other US lakeside nuclear plants that are approaching 40-years old?