WASHINGTON - November 30 - A coalition of environmental groups today urged the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund Board to reject a plan to purchase the former Big Rock Point Nuclear Power Plant site near Charlevoix.
The continued storage of high-level atomic waste at the site, its legacy of radioactive contamination, and the availability of numerous high-quality natural lands competing for limited Trust Fund dollars should be factors when the Board votes on the proposal Wednesday, Dec. 6.
"There are more than 160 applicants for trust fund dollars, many for spectacular lands including sand dunes, wetlands, riverfront and lakefront property and forests — none of which have nuclear waste issues," said Hugh McDiarmid Jr., spokesman for the Michigan Environmental Council. "We ask the board members not to shortchange these applicants to invest in a site that will have dangerous radioactive waste for the foreseeable future, and that has a dubious environmental legacy of contamination."
The 351-acre tract would cost the state $3 million this year and an additional $16.3 million in future years. It surrounds a 100-acre zone forbidden to the public because of its proximity to 64 tons of highly radioactive nuclear fuel rods patrolled by armed guards.
All told, the request is among $63 million worth of projects under consideration for the $35 million available.
Although Big Rock has been declared clean by contractors hired by the property's owner, Consumers Energy Co., questions remain as to the residual contamination and radiation, and the thoroughness of the environmental assessment.
Consumers Energy and U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission reports reveal a four decade "Radiological Event History" that documents 63 radioactive spills, leaks, overflows, as well as sloppy handling of radioactive materials at the Big Rock site. A single incident in 1984 released 20,000 gallons of radioactive water into the soil and aquifers. Consumers Energy received permission from the NRC for "on-site disposal" of that spill, leaving the contaminants in the ground water to flow out into Lake Michigan. NRC documents reveal that up until the year 2000, the groundwater was in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act. Tritium — radioactive hydrogen — is likely still flowing into Lake Michigan and contaminating Big Rock's aquifers.
"Consumers Energy has treated the Big Rock site as a radioactive septic field, and Lake Michigan as an atomic cesspool, and NRC has let them get away with it," said Kevin Kamps of Nuclear Information and Resource Service. "That's why we call Big Rock the Plutonium State Park."
"Water is in every cell of the human body, therefore water containing radioactive hydrogen — tritium — can enter, contaminate, and bombard any cell in the body, doing harm to this and future generations," said Kay Drey, an NIRS board member who has researched tritium's health hazards for decades.
"The tiny reactor at Big Rock compiled one of the dirtiest radiation release records in the entire country," said Michael Keegan of the Coalition for a Nuclear-Free Great Lakes. "That radioactivity contaminated the soil, groundwater, and Lake Michigan, leaving a public health hazard and legal liability nightmare for generations to come."
The U.S. Department of Energy has stated in recent months that the proposed national dumpsite for high-level radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain, Nevada cannot open until 2017 at the very earliest. Transporting the eight silos of waste from Big Rock to Nevada could take additional years after that.
"The high-level radioactive wastes at Big Rock are not going anywhere anytime soon," said Kamps of NIRS. "In the meantime, they will remain a radioactive bull's eye on the shoreline of Lake Michigan, vulnerable to terrorist attack or accident."
Each container of high-level waste at Big Rock contains the long-lasting radiation equivalent of 240 Hiroshima bombs, according to Dr. Marvin Resnikoff of Radioactive Waste Management Associates in New York City. Resnikoff authored a report in 1996 on Big Rock's decommissioning, advocating that Consumers mothball the plant for decades to allow radiation levels to die down before workers were sent in to dismantle the facility. Instead, Consumers opted for immediate dismantlement.
Groups opposing the state acquisition of the Big Rock property include: Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination, Citizens Resistance at Fermi Two, Coalition for a Nuclear-Free Great Lakes, Don't Waste Michigan, Environment Michigan, Friends of the Detroit River, Great Lakes United, HEAT - Hamtramck Environmental Action Team, Home for Peace and Justice, Huron Environmental Activist League (HEAL), IHM Justice, Peace and Sustainability Office, Les Cheneaux Watershed Council, Lone Tree Council, Michigan Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, Michigan Environmental Council, National Environmental Trust, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Tittabawassee River Watch, and Wayne State University College Democrats.