Just As the Nuclear Power Industry Was Burnishing Its 'Green' Image...

Leaking radioactive water at more than 20 US nuclear power plants again stirs up controversy of safety and viability of aging power plants.

Published: 31-Jan-2010

VERNON, Vt. - The nuclear industry, once an environmental pariah, is recasting itself as green as it attempts to extend the life of many power plants and build new ones. But a leak of radioactive water at Vermont Yankee, along with similar incidents at more than 20 other US nuclear plants in recent years, has kindled doubts about the reliability, durability, and maintenance of the nation’s aging nuclear installations.

SEE ALSO: TWR: A Nuclear Way Forward?
Vermont health officials say the leak, while deeply worrisome, is not a threat to drinking water supplies or the Connecticut River, which flows beside the 38-year-old plant, nor is it endangering public health. But the controversy is threatening to derail the nuclear plant’s bid, now at a critical juncture, for state approvals to extend its operating life by 20 years when its license expires in two years. Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspectors, Vermont Yankee’s owners, and state officials are tracing the source of the radioactivity and searching for other leaks in the labyrinth of below-surface pipes on the plants’ property about 10 miles from the Massachusetts border.

The timing couldn’t be worse for the nuclear industry, coming as it attempts a broad rebirth as a green energy source in the battle against global warming; the reactors do not emit greenhouse gases that cause the atmosphere to warm.

Memories of the accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl are receding and many in the public are taking a second look at nuclear. President Obama last week endorsed a new generation of nuclear power in his State of the Union address, and for the first time in decades, more than 20 new plants have been proposed.

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