Nuclear Power Plants Threaten Drinking Water for 200,000 Marylanders

BALTIMORE – The drinking water for 200,000 people in Maryland could be at risk of radioactive contamination from a leak or accident at a local nuclear power plant, says a new study released today by Maryland PIRG Foundation (Maryland PIRG) and Environment Maryland Research and Policy Center.

“The danger of nuclear power is too close to home.  Here in Maryland, the drinking water for 200,000 people is too close to an active nuclear power plant,” said Jenny Levin, State Advocate with Maryland PIRG. “An accident like the one in Fukushima, Japan or a leak could spew cancer-causing radioactive waste into our drinking water.”

The nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, Japan last year drew a spotlight on the many risks associated with nuclear power. After the disaster, airborne radiation left areas around the plant uninhabitable, and even contaminated drinking water sources near Tokyo, 130 miles from the plant.

According to the new report, Too Close to Home: Nuclear Power and the Threat to Drinking Water, the drinking water for 208, 442 people in Maryland is within 50 miles of an active nuclear power plant – the distance the Nuclear Regulatory Commission uses to measure risk to food and water supplies. Click here for map.

“This report reminds us that nuclear power plants in the United States pose a risk to the safety of the water supply for tens of millions of Americans. There is no safe dose of radioactivity,” said Dr. Gwen Dubois with Physicians for Social Responsibility. “The greater then number of people exposed, the higher the incidence of cancer will result.”  

Radiation from a disaster like the one in Fukushima can contaminate drinking water and food supplies, as well as harm our health.  But disaster or no disaster, a common leak at a nuclear power plant can also threaten the drinking water for millions of people.  As our nuclear facilities get older, leaks are more common.  In fact, 75 percent of U.S. nuclear plants have leaked tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen that can cause cancer and genetic defects.

“Mothers across Japan were understandably outraged over contaminated drinking water after Fukushima—how could they safely feed their children? We must act to ensure no Maryland mother ever has to feel such anguish, and that means closing dangerous nuclear reactors as quickly as possible” said Michael Mariotte, executive director of Nuclear Information and Resource Service, which is leading a legal challenge against the proposed Calvert Cliffs-3 nuclear reactor on the Chesapeake Bay.

Local bodies of water also play a critical role in cooling nuclear reactors and are at risk of contamination.  In the case of the Fukushima meltdown, large quantities of seawater were pumped into the plant to cool it, and contaminated seawater then leaked and was dumped back into the ocean, carrying radioactivity from the plant with it.  The Chesapeake Bay provides cooling water for the Calvert Cliffs nuclear plant in Maryland and could be at risk.

“With nuclear power, there’s too much at risk and the dangers are too close to home.  Marylanders shouldn’t have to worry about getting cancer from drinking a glass of water,” said Levin.

The report recommends that the United States moves to a future without nuclear power by retiring existing plants, abandoning plans for new plants, and expanding energy efficiency and the production clean, renewable energy such as wind and solar power.

In order to reduce the risks nuclear power poses to water supplies immediately, the report recommends completing a thorough safety review of U.S. nuclear power plants, requiring plant operators to implement recommended changes immediately and requiring nuclear plant operators to implement regular groundwater tests in order to catch tritium leaks, among other actions.

“There are far cleaner, cheaper, and less-risky ways to get our energy,” concluded Ewa Krason.  “Maryland and the United States should move away from nuclear power immediately and invest in safer alternatives such as efficiency and wind and solar power.”