Plant Neighbor Once Bitten, Twice Shy

CROSSCURRENTS

August 25, 1991|By Jean Ewing

We Darlington residents live amid some of the most beautiful rollinghills and handsome farms in the nation.

We also live just a few miles from a nuclear power plant -- Peach Bottom Atomic Plant in Delta, Pa.

And so the news last week about a discovery for locking radioactive waste inside a crystalline structure touched on old fears and recalled past misjudgment by Philadelphia Electric Co., which operates the plant.

Synroc, (for synthetic rock), is an advanced ceramic thatcan be fused with radioactive waste, locking it inside its crystalline structure. The article said an 11-pound chunk of chemically inactive Synroc is all that is left after 22 gallons of highly dangerous radioactive liquid waste is processed.

As a member of the Peach Bottom Alliance, a non-profit group that monitors the nuclear power plantup the road, this discovery worries me.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has said 97 percent of nuclear waste is labeled what they call "below regulatory concern." This means the commission doesn't needto monitor what happens to it.

So I wonder now how much of the radioactive waste generated at Peach Bottom will soon make its way intoSynroc, and where it would go in our community after that.

Duringpublic hearings before the NRC there has been sharp criticism about the regulation of the disposal of the "below regulatory concern" radioactive waste.

Trash collectors, among others, want nothing to do with low level radiation in garbage collection, landfills, private orpublic dumps. These workers are not about to learn what's radioactive and toxic in their daily work. They are no experts and they don't trust experts who try to pass radioactive materials into the public domain.

As someone who lives in Darlington, I couldn't agree more.

The NRC has unfailingly pandered to the nuclear industry at the public's expense. Congress knows this. The news industry reports it withcare. The public has seen examples of this over and over again. Mostpeople seem not to care. Will they wake up now?

Below regulatory concern? Indeed!

We should be concerned about all radioactive waste, less one day we find it has been recycled into housewares and children's toys made out of Synroc.

We at the Peach Bottom Alliance give credit to Philadelphia Electric for rejecting out of hand the "below regulatory concern" concept. So far so good.

But we wonder if PE changed its thinking on the issue, what would prevent the utility -- which owns plenty of land in Maryland -- from storing low level radioactive waste along the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay watershed.

We do want to trust PE, but we must remember that its executives told the Harford County Council a few years ago that Peach Bottom was so remote from company headquarters in Philadelphia that they could not be held accountable for the control room operators the NRC found sleeping on the job.

Rather than just take PE's word for the safety of emissions from the nuclear plant at Peach Bottom, our group maintains about 10 Geiger counters, spaced around the plant, to keep an eye on things. We report weekly to the Maryland and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources, to the NRC and to your staff.

We pray that the good Australians that have developed Synroc have a smart thing.

But we wonder, if we fuse the radioactive waste generated at Peach Bottom, may we ship it all to Australia for safekeeping? The acid test: will the Aussies put it in their front yard?

Meanwhile, back on the farms and rolling hills of lovely Harford, let's urge each legislator at the county, state, and federal level to outlawradioactive waste of any stripe from unclassified, unguarded dump sites in our backyard.

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