The drinking water for many Arizonans could be at risk of radioactive contamination from a leak or accident at the Palo Verde nuclear power plant, says a new report released today by the Arizona Public Interest Research Group (Arizona PIRG) and Environment Arizona.
According to the report, “Too Close to Home: Nuclear Power and the Threat to Drinking Water,” the drinking water for 124,500 people in Arizona is within 50 miles of the Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant – the distance the Nuclear Regulatory Commission uses to measure risk to water and food supplies. The City of Peoria’s water system has the only surface water pumping station within the 50 mile radius of the Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant. The City of Peoria’s water system provides drinking water to 124,500 people.
“Nuclear power contains risks and dangers that are too close to home,” said Diane E. Brown, Executive Director of the Arizona Public Interest Research Group (Arizona PIRG). “In order to reduce the risks nuclear power poses to water supplies, a thorough safety review of Palo Verde and other U.S. nuclear power plants needs to be completed, plant operators should be required to implement recommended changes immediately and nuclear plant operators should be required to implement regular groundwater tests in order to catch tritium leaks.”
Bret Fanshaw, Advocate with Environment Arizona, added “Our drinking water is too important to risk radiation contamination.” Fanshaw noted that disaster or no disaster, a common leak at a nuclear power plant can also threaten the drinking water for millions of people. As nuclear facilities get older, leaks are more common. According to the report, 75 percent of U.S. nuclear plants have leaked tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen that can cause cancer and genetic defects.
The nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, Japan last year drew a spotlight on the many risks associated with nuclear power. After the disaster started airborne radiation left areas around the plant uninhabitable, and even contaminated drinking water sources near Tokyo, 130 miles from the plant.
Russell Lowes, a nuclear energy expert based in Tucson, noted several problems the Palo Verde nuclear power plant has experienced in recent years. “Not only does Palo Verde use more water than coal, natural gas, wind or solar power,” says Lowes, “it also stands to contaminate more of our Central Arizona drinking water in the event of an accident. While Palo Verde has a track record of unsolved tritium leaks, these leaks have been during routine operation.”
Lowes continued, “The ironic thing is, we do not need this plant. This plant can be phased out and replaced by energy efficiency and solar energy, along with other existing power capacity. The right ratio of solar and efficiency options can supply our energy less expensively than Palo Verde. Nuclear energy is very expensive, even more so when the occasional accident like Fukushima is thrown into the equation.”
The report recommends that the United States moves to a future without nuclear energy by retiring existing plants, abandoning plans for new plants, and expanding energy efficiency and the production clean, renewable energy such as solar and wind power.