Radioactive Water Spilled Into Lake Michigan By Nuclear PlantS

The Associated Press reported Monday that a nuclear power plant on the western edge of the state had a "very slightly radioactive water" spill over the weekend, which should probably be alarming, but, in fact, is no big deal.

When I hear radioactive water what comes to mind is three-headed fish with molars that descend from a hippo ready to eviscerate me the second I'm within striking distance.

Maybe you think of something differently.

Seventy-nine gallons of "very slightly radioactive water" from a leaky tank at the troubled Palisades Nuclear Power Plant spilled into Lake Michigan, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokeswoman said Monday.

No need to panic, the spokeswoman says in the next paragraph. There is "absolutely" no risk to human health.

What immediately follows the No Big Fucking Deal, Everyone, Move Along remark, was this particularly interesting fact.

The plant is 80 miles east-northeast of Chicago in Van Buren County's Covert Township. It's been under heightened Nuclear Regulatory Commission attention because of a series of breakdown over two years.

Interesting, hm? A series of breakdowns over the past two years. The plant has actually been shut down nine times since September 2011, most recently in February for a different leak, AP reports.

It's all good, though. This is only a "very slightly radioactive water" spill.

The amount of radiation the NRC says was released is near the background level — what is found occurring in the environment on a daily basis — and shouldn't raise any public concern, said Ronald Gilgenbach, chairman of the nuclear engineering and radiological sciences department at the University of Michigan.

"The NRC has a serious standard to protect the public," he said.

Absolute full disclosure: I don't know jack about nuclear power and the fine details of what is found in the environment each day or whatever. As a bona fide outsider reading this, my first gut reaction is telling me, "This place has been closed down nine times in the past two years alone. I wonder if this should be alarming." But, after hearing hearing first the spokeswoman, then the U-M professor say there's nothing to worry about, some may walk away feeling not as uneasy as they did before.

The public can generally count on the NRC's risk assessments and its willingness to get tough with operators of nuclear plants that have recurring problems, said Alan Jackson, a radiation health physicist at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit.

If 'generally' isn't the operative word here, I don't know what to think, because Jackson finishes up the article with this:

What should be of concern to regulators and the public, Jackson said, is whether any nuclear power plant has enough of a culture of safety in place. That's especially important because of the intense pressures in the electrical power industry to keep costs low.

Saturday's radiation leak "most likely ... is not a public health concern," Jackson said. "What's more a concern is why do these things keep happening?"

"I would fixate on, 'OK, you have this problem. Why aren't you fixing it?'" he said.

And here I thought I was a goof for a moment, assuming I had no business butting in as a nuclear power neophyte.

Michigan Radio speaking to the Palisades Site Vice President at the plant.

“We’re diving into our programs and finding out why these issues are finding us instead of us finding them,” Vitale said in April.

“It is unfortunate that this is a recurrent issue that we are dealing with here,” Young said, “but our resolve is strong to fix this issue once and for all.”

Perhaps an alternate lede to the article could've said: Western Michigan nuclear power plant with troubled record as of late was shutdown Monday after 79 gallons of radioactive water spilled into Lake Michigan, raising concerns of some officials.

Two months ago the owner of the plant responded to naggy media reports about its safety saying: "Our unrelenting commitment and focus are on operating Palisades at the highest levels of safety and reliability — now and for many years to come."

It's all in how you frame something, I suppose.

(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)