(Originally published Saturday, May 9, 2015 on http://haltfermi.blogspot.com/)
Not a lot of people living near the corner of Michigan and Ohio see stopping Fermi 3 and shutting down Fermi 2 as a high priority. That’s understandable. Neither the current operation of Fermi 2 nor the prospect of building Fermi 3 poses an immediate threat comparable to the immediacy of numerous other issues.
Tar sands, for instance, have brought us very visible piles of petroleum coke on the banks of the Detroit River. The Marathon refinery in southwest Detroit which produces petroleum coke also produces choking fumes rising from the basements of nearby houses because of toxic chemicals the refinery dumps into the sewers. It also produces the occasional fire, explosion and neighborhood evacuation.
Enbridge’s tar sands pipeline dumped over a million gallons of diluted bitumen into the Kalamazoo River in 2010. As the components separated, the bitumen sunk to the bottom where much of it remains five years later. The more volatile chemicals of the mix evaporated, causing enough air pollution that people living near the river had to be evacuated.
Fracking also causes a host of immediate problems. Before fracking even begins, drilling sites are cleared and a steady stream of tanker trucks and construction equipment dominate roads around the sites for months. Multi-thousand horsepower pumps producing multi-thousand horsepower noise run for days on end. Cancer-causing fumes travel downwind; cancer-causing chemicals show up in nearby wells; millions of gallons of contaminated water must be disposed in injection wells. In case of flooding, this contaminated water ends up downstream, as it did from thousands of well sites in Colorado in 2014.
Fracking is also responsible for the oil coming out of North Dakota. This fracked oil is more volatile and more flammable than typical crude oil. It’s generally shipped by long trains of tank cars. These have earned the title of “bomb trains.” National Geographic recently published a mapo sillustrating the astounding increase in bomb train accidents; 143 in 2014, up from 9 in 2010. (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/energy/2015/05/150506-crude-oil-train-accidents-over-time/) The worst so far killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.
Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) also cause intense and immediate problems. In North Carolina, a single spill from a sewage lagoon sent 25 million gallons of concentrated sewage into the nearby river. With widespread flooding, sewage lagoons containing months or years of waste from thousands of animals ended up downstream, resulting in “black tides” along the seacoast when it finally reached the ocean.
Just operating “normally,” CAFOs expose everyone nearby and downwind to ammonia and other components af bad odor. We have plenty of CAFOs in Michigan and Ohio which you can visit if you doubt the odor problems.
The possibility of a nuclear reactor disaster just does not have the same sights, sounds and smells that put our brains and bodies on high alert for immediate danger.
It is true that back in 1966, the original Fermi reactor experienced a fuel meltdown. This turned out to be a kind of partial and contained meltdown. Several hundred million dollars (1966 dollars, not todays much less valuable dollars) worth of rquipment was wrecked, but no evacuation was required. Many people living nearby did not even know it happened. There were more important things to worry about, such as being drafted to fight in Vietnam.
Today, Fermi 2 just sits there, producing electricity when it is not shut down because of one failed part or another. The cancer rate in the area has increased considerably since 1966, but that just quietly takes out one person at a time, and it is impossible to say which particular case of cancer came from radiation and which came from some toxic chemical. There’s not much going on that would alert the whole community, and the authorities tell us there is nothing to worry about in any case.
For “Fermi 2,” substitute the words “Chernobyl” or “Fukushima” and the above paragraph would be an accurate description of life around Chernobyl or Fukushima before those infamous disasters. Well, the worst did happen there, without a lot of warning. It can happen here.
Unfortunately, we have nothing but our intelligence to warn us. But fortunately, we do have our intelligence to warn us. It’s up to each of us to listen to the warning, and act on it.
It’s too late to prevent the meltdowns at Chernobyl and Fukushima. It is too late to prevent the meltdown of Fermi 1. It is not too late to prevent more meltdowns in Monroe, Michigan. Fermi 3 does not have to be built. Fermi 2 can be shut down (it has been shut down many times) and it can be dismantled. That’s the only way we lill ever be safe from a local meltdown. If there is one, it’s not hundreds or thousands of people who will need to be evacuated; it’s at least hundreds of thousands; it could be millions. (About 5 million people live within 50 miles of Fermi.)
It’s not fair, but that’s the way the world is. We have to deal with tar sands and fracking and CAFOs and meltdowns and more (even an occasional personal issue) all at the same time. They are all important, and we can’t just pick one and focus on that. If you do, you’re setting yourself up to be blindsided.