Will nuclear power save us from downsizing our energy appetite from the inconveniences of climate change? The short answer is no.


American Council on Science and Health, Image by enriquelopezgarre from Pixabay 

Tritiated Water: Nuclear Power and Climate Change

 By Susu Jeffrey   Original to Rise Up Times   June 29, 2023

Tritium, a byproduct of nuclear fission,
cannot be filtered out of water
and has been linked to cancer.
Amy Goodman, 4/19/2023
Democracy Now!

There is a special place in hell for people who poison the well. It’s an old war tactic— to throw a dead body down into the town well. But when it’s the town managers doing the throwing, you got to wonder who profits and what’s safe to drink.

Monticello nuclear power plant, 35 miles up the Mississippi from the Minneapolis and St. Paul public water intake pipes, had a tritium leak on November 22, 2022. On March 24, 2023, another leak was “discovered” coming from the failed temporary repair of the November leak. No threat to drinking water or the environment was repeated and repeated. The first leak was reported four months after it occurred.

Tritium reacts with oxygen to form “tritiated water” with a half-life of 12.3 years and moves easily through the environment just like water. The oft-repeated idea that water can be confined is theory.

Water can move atrazine applied to farm fields in Minnesota to the dead zone south and west of the mouth of the Mississippi in the Gulf of Mexico. Water can reduce mountains to sand. There is no “away” on a round world. And “tritium cannot be filtered out of water.”

The Peaceful Atom

The “peaceful atom” was the sales pitch echoed and re-echoed to monetize nuclear war technology after World War 2. Sources of tritium include commercial and research nuclear reactors and government armament factories. Tritium may be released into the air from these facilities or may leak into the underlying soil and ground water.

Tritium primarily enters the body when people swallow tritiated water, inhale tritium as a gas in the air or absorb it through their skin. Once tritium enters the body, it goes directly into soft tissues and organs. Tritium is excreted via urine within a month or so post ingestion and is flushed into the Mississippi after being processed at Pig’s Eye sewage treatment plant. The flow continues down the Mississippi to all the other municipal water intake pipes from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.

In 1994 the Red Wing, Minnesota newspaper, The Republican Eagle, reported on breast cancer death rate increases in counties surrounding our state’s nuclear power plants. Around Monticello the death rates increased 38-percent in the 1980s in the following counties: Anoka, Benton, McLeod and Meeker.

Around the twin Prairie Island nuclear reactors, 32 to 39 miles south along the Mississippi River from St. Paul and Minneapolis, the breast cancer death rate increased 43-percent in the 1980s. In Dakota, Goodhue and Wabasha counties in Minnesota along with Pepin and St. Croix, Wisconsin counties increased breast cancer death rates were recorded. No wonder statistical breast (and other) cancer death studies are not routine around nuclear and military facilities.

Monticello nuke went online in 1971, licensed until 2010. It was relicensed until 2030. In other words, it’s past its due date, it’s old, it’s embrittled, pipes crack and break. Monticello is a zombie nuke, a reanimated industrial dead body. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission defines an “ingestion pathway” zone of about 50 miles around nuke plants primarily from food and liquid contaminated by radioactivity.

In March Xcel Energy powered down Monticello nuke in order to cut out and repair (not replace) the failed, ruptured, leaking pipe. Xcel president Chris Clark said that “there is always a risk that it would spill over again and have more tritium enter the groundwater. Repeat: “enter the groundwater.” Water obeys gravity not fences or border lines on paper maps.

Prairie Islands’ two nuclear reactors went online 1973-1974 and were relicensed until 2033 and 2034. High level radioactive waste is stored onsite, above ground alongside the Prairie Island Indian Community located in the Mississippi floodplain. The reservation was established in 1889.

More than 500 Indian mounds have been located in the near vicinity of the Prairie Island Indian Community indicating long-standing Indigenous occupation and a plethora of sacred sites.

In May of this year an “unusual event” caused an automatic shutdown of one Prairie Island reactors resulting, not surprisingly, in “no threat.” It was a transformer malfunction that tripped an alarm. The greater Twin Cities, with half the population of the state of Minnesota, is in the nuclear “shadow” of all three of the state’s radioactive nukes.

There are 92 commercial nuclear plants operating in 28 US states for an average of 40-years each. Two more reactors at Georgia’s Vogtle nuclear complex are scheduled to go online in 2023; in California, Diablo Canyon’s two reactors are scheduled to retire in 2024 and 2025. But retirement doesn’t mean cold and safe.

Hot nuke waste remains radioactive and dangerous to human (other animal and plant) health for tens of thousands of years. High level waste needs to be sequestered for a million years. Most commercial N-waste is stored onsite because it is too heavy and hot to move and because there is no waste repository—none, zero, period. From pre-World War 2 atomic bomb research the question of what do we do with the waste has never been answered.

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Nuclear Power and Climate Change

Will nuclear power save us from downsizing our energy appetite from the inconveniences of climate change? “The short answer is no,” writes Ian Fairlie, PhD, retired British expert on radiation and radioactivity. Currently he is a consultant to the European Parliament, local and regional governments, environmental NGOs etc.

The new breed of nuke-ettes, small modular reactors and advanced nuclear reactors, are highly unlikely to mitigate our energy deficiencies. Fairlie explains, this is “partly because the nuclear industry has a relatively large carbon footprint compared to the renewables, and partly because of the inherent problems” with these power producers. Farlie cautions people who hope nuclear is the solution “should google ‘uranium mining’ and ‘nuclear wastes.’”

I have neighbors who are moving out of the Twin Cities. Here we are in the city and the state named after water, mi-ni is Dakotah for water, and we are sabotaging but not fooling ourselves. I toured one of the Minneapolis waterworks industrial complexes and learned that “finished” water is confined inside seven buildings because if left in the open air, the water would become contaminated. If it’s in the air, it’s in the water. All life, all of it, requires water, the cleaner the water, the healthier the life. Avoiding the basics like water, or truth, leads to a dead end.

“Dilution is the solution to pollution” is hardly reassuring.


Tritium isn’t harmless | Beyond Nuclear International

Eye-popping new cost estimates released for NuScale small modular reactor | IEEFA

Susu Jeffrey was arrested in 1977 for trespassing at Seabrook (NH, north of Boston) nuclear power plant construction site as one of “the 1414.” The Seabrook nonviolent mass arrest kicked off the nuclear-free movement across America.


Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has been given permission to begin dumping 1,600,000 (one-million, six-hundred thousand) tons of Fukushima disaster contaminated water into the Pacific through an underwater pipe, emptying a little more than a half mile offshore. The plan, okayed by the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), is expected to last 30-or-more years because the utility is running out of storage space while the hot nukes require continuous sea water cooling.

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  1. Jean Ross July 25, 2023 at 6:42 AM - Reply

    This is a good read and enlightened me about tritium & the real dangers from the 2 “leaks” from the Monticello nuclear facility which the media minimized when the news of those came out.

  2. Sid July 19, 2023 at 11:44 AM - Reply

    Thank you very much for your important article, Susu!

  3. Mary Beaudoin July 1, 2023 at 7:47 PM - Reply

    Thanks to Susu Jeffrey for her commentary here. Important! “Poisoning the well” is the perfect metaphorl

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