Letter: More thoughts on nuclear plants

Monday, July 24, 2017 7:0PM
More thoughts on nuclear plants

To the editor:

Recently, a writer seeking support for the New England Coalition (formerly the New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution) commented on nuclear plant decommissioning. The Coalition’s beliefs were expressed in the comments. Their underlying belief is that “Any amount of radiation is dangerous.” This can’t be reconciled with the belief of the scientific community, the government, or the facts. That belief is: “Radiation is a powerful natural force, and all around us and in us. Used with care great benefits can be obtained. Carelessly or by intention, great harm can be done.” Science believes as Marie Curie, discoverer of radium in the 19th century said, “Everything is to be understood, nothing is to be feared.” Millions are killed every day intentionally – that is millions of cancer cells are killed by radiation treatment.

Radioactive elements, such as the granite in Mount Monadnock, give off radioactivity in the form of waves and particles. In the process the elements are changed to something else. Bottom line is that the radiation decreases with time and the end result is elements that aren’t radioactive. This process was named “decay.” The process is measured by “half-life.” In one half-life, half of a batch of an element has changed. In another half-life, half of the half has changed. In a third half-life, half of the half of the half has changed, and so on.

In an operating nuclear reactor radioactive atom splitting parts are continuously produced, and the more there are, the faster they decay, until a steady high level exists. On shutdown the parts continue decaying, so the amount and the potential hazard decreases continuously. This also applies to any radioactivity in, for example, the building concrete, whether it came from the plant processes, or is the natural radioactivity in the material dug up to make the concrete. The low hazard is clearly seen when the numbers are done. The Coalition never presents numbers. They are running a scare campaign, in my judgment.

Comparing the used fuel stored at Vermont Yankee to the waste at the WWII nuclear weapons material manufacturing site at Hanford, Washington is ludicrous. Huge quantities of waste were produced, and at the time, the best decisions possible for temporary storage were made. The Vermont Yankee used fuel is double packaged, above ground, in solid ceramic form, and monitored continuously. Material may be radioactive for millions of years, and measureable, but it takes a large quantity to make it a hazard. The uranium in the Mount Monadnock granite is radioactive and can be measured, but there is not enough of it to be a hazard.

Howard Shaffer

Enfield, NH