Shell Bluff Residents Speak Out on Nuclear Reactors

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(APN) SHELL BLUFF, GEORGIA — On January 07, 2012, a bus carrying members of Georgia Women’s Action for New Directions (GA WAND), Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, Nuclear Watch South, Grandmothers for Peace, and other concerned citizens arrived in Shell Bluff, Georgia, for a community meeting at Fairfield Missionary Baptist Church, to discuss Georgia Power’s plans for two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle.

Civil rights icon, Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery, 90, also traveled to Shell Bluff to speak at the community meeting.

Shell Bluff is a small isolated, rural community in the shadow of plant Votgle’s nuclear facility. From the grounds of Fairfield Missionary Baptist Church you can see the water vapor rising into the sky from the tanks that cool Vogtle’s two existing nuclear reactors.

Before the Savannah River Plant [nuclear bomb plant] and Vogtle [nuclear power plant] came to the area, the people of Shell Bluff enjoyed a thriving community. They fished, swam, and played in the Savannah River and surrounding creeks. They farmed the land with no worries about radiation contaminating crops, animals, water, air, or people.

Today the Savannah River, downstream from the Savannah River Site (SRS) on one side and Vogtle on the other, is nearly lifeless with few fish swimming in the water because the water is too hot from cooling the nuclear reactors. No one eats any surviving fish, which have sores on their bodies. The river has a sickening unrecognizable odor and the pine trees are diseased with their bark falling off. Nothing downstream has the vitality of life one expects to see in nature.

The Shell Bluff community meeting opened with a video regarding a 2007 study focused on Burke County. As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, the study found that since the reactors were built, cancer has increased by twenty-five percent in Burke County even while cancer rates nationwide went down in the same period.

After the study was presented to the US Department of Energy, they promised federal funding for independent environmental monitoring in Georgia. The chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) said they were commissioning a new national health study to re-examine the health risk for people living near nuclear power plants.

“The good news is they said yes to the testing and monitoring. The bad news is the money has not come in yet and the woman who promised it at the Department of Energy has been relieved of her job,” Bobbie Paul, Executive Director with Georgia WAND, said.

At the community meeting, the citizens wrote their concerns on pieces of paper in order to remain anonymous, but a few were brave enough to speak openly.

It is well known that most Burke county citizens are too afraid of losing their jobs or other forms of blacklisting to speak out against one of the most powerful corporations in the world, Southern Company. The fear of Southern Company’s influence has been evident, especially in the poor and Black areas, for decades.

“If you speak up, Monday morning you get cut,” Rev. Charles Utley said. “We have to get to the point were jobs are not the thing but right and wrong becomes the thing.”

Rev. Utley told of one man who said, “I had rather have the job and have cancer, so my child can move out.”

The community is very concerned about the tritium releases and radiation leaks over the years, and the impact these have on their health, the water they drink, the food they eat, and the air they breathe. They are especially concerned about their children’s health and all the young people who are dying from cancer.

Everyone who lives within ten miles of the reactors were given radios to notify them if an accident happens at the plant. “We need new radios that work, our radios are twenty years old. Our water smells and tastes terrible and no one has come out to check on our water. They tell us if anything happens in the plant we are to tape up our house. Where are we going to get enough tape to tape up our houses?” one woman, who was granted anonymity because of potential retribution against her, said.

“I can’t figure out why one area of Southern Company is treated differently from another area. I was in Dothan, Alabama, and in that area they go around door to door in the community each year taking a survey to see if the people are okay. Some of the folks in Burke County have not seen anyone since the plant was built. It is like here we don’t count,” Rev. Willy Tomlin said.

“The people in Burke County are concerned but they are afraid. This is a real monster [nuclear radiation] and it’s dangerous,” Rev. Tomlin said.

People wanted to know the effects of two more nuclear plants on the Shell Bluff community. “There will be increased emissions which are routine and legal. So there is increased radiation released into the air, water and farmlands around here,” Amanda Hill-Attkisson, Managing Director with Georgia WAND, told them.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) calls Southern Company’s nuclear expansion plan at Vogtle a big risk, with big cost overruns, delays, and lack of transparency, which ignores cleaner, cheaper, and less risky alternatives.

Vogtle’s current operating reactors Vogtle 1 and 2 were projected to cost 660 million dollars but actually cost 8.87 billion, a 1,200 percent increase as reported earlier by APN. UCS states that Georgia Power continues to rely on outdated assumptions in its cost projections, despite their past history of large cost overruns.

Georgia ratepayers are already stuck paying the “Nuclear Construction Cost Recovery” (NCCR) on their power bill each month and that fee will only go up each year.  For an average residential customers that comes to about $3.73 per month or forty-four dollars per year, but will increase to over one hundred twenty dollars per year.

“Georgia ratepayers will not receive power from Vogtle’s proposed nuclear plants 3 and 4 because the energy derived from these plants will be sold to Florida,” Hill-Attkisson said.

Momentum for a grassroots movement to refuse to pay the NCCR fee on Georgia Power’s monthly electric bill is growing. People, including the present writer, are already deducting the NCCR fee from their monthly utility payments. Some have not paid the fee for several months, but the late payment amount has not accumulated to the point where it is enough for Georgia Power to turn off their power; but the company has warned that it will. State Rep. Roger Bruce, meanwhile, is working on legislation to exempt seniors from paying the fee because they may not live to see the power plants come online.

As reported earlier by APN, nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen has documented numerous unreviewed safety concerns involving the Westinghouse AP 1000 nuclear plant design based on lessons learned from the Fukushima disaster.

On December 22, 2011, the US NRC approved the AP1000 design.  There is an ongoing lawsuit challenging safety concerns regarding the AP 1000.

According to Synapse, a research and consulting firm, energy efficiency combined with renewable energy–including onshore and offshore wind 56,423 GWh [Gigawatt hours]; biomass 22,703 GWh; Hydroelectric 2,015 GWh; and solar 18,668 GWh, for a total of 99,809 GWh–would eliminate the need to build high-risk projects like Vogtle new nuclear reactors 3 and 4, which will produce only 16,381 GWh of energy.

Thirty-nine states have standards or goals in place to support energy efficiency and/or renewable energy. Georgia has neither.

(END/2011)

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