Palisades Forum

Palisades ForumSierra Club Southwest Michigan Group joined Michigan Safe Energy Future, MSEF’s Palisades Shutdown Campaign, and Washington, D.C., organization Beyond Nuclear to hold a public forum about the Palisades nuclear plant on Lake Michigan near Covert and South Haven. Special thanks to downtown Kalamazoo’s First Congregational Church for hosting our Palisades Forum Thursday evening, April 21. Kevin Kamps, Nuclear Waste Watchdog with Beyond Nuclear, and Ethyl Rivera of the Alliance to Halt Fermi 3 were our guest speakers.

Kevin Kamps at the Palisades Forum:

Kevin Kamps speaking at the Palisades Forum

Kevin Kamps speaking at the Palisades Forum

Kevin Kamps gave his Powerpoint presentation Fukushima, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island…Where Next?! He pointed out the design similarities that Palisades shares with the Fukishima, Japan, plant where an earthquake five years ago resulted in a catastrophe that still hasn’t been fully measured. Kamps explained that the most dangerous times in the life of a nuclear plant come when the plant is still new and working through unforeseen problems, and again as it ages and maintenance issues arise. Palisades, now 45 years old, is one of the nation’s oldest nuclear plants. It’s also considered among the most embrittled in the U.S. Some say it’s the most embrittled.

(More information on embrittlement available here.)

Kamps is a Kalamazoo native. For 15 years he’s been a Don’t Waste Michigan board member. He’s worked with Beyond Nuclear for the past nine years. Before that, he spent eight years as a nuclear waste specialist with Nuclear Information & Resource Service, also based in D.C. As a nuclear expert, Kamps has appeared on national TV, has been featured in national publications, and has testified before the U.S. Department of Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Before there was a Palisades Forum, there was Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby Hopewell’s letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Mayor Hopewell's letter read at the Palisades Forum

To no avail, Mayor Bobby Hopewell’s letter to the NRC called on the regulatory agency to do its job and regulate instead of rolling back the regulations.

When Mayor Bobby Hopewell learned that the NRC was planning to “update” the Palisades operating license, he wrote a letter to the NRC. The Mayor objected to the proposed update, which was actually a weakened safety standard that would save Palisades the expense of physically testing its reactor pressure vessel’s embrittlement. (Details available at our “Palisades Problem” page.) The reactor pressure vessel (RPV) is the shell that contains the reactor core. An RPV that’s brittle enough to break under stress can lead to disaster.

Since Mayor Hopewell was unable to attend the Palisades Forum, MSEF member Michael Hoag of VanKal Permaculture took the podium to read the Mayor’s letter.

Safety protocols, the Mayor explained, “should be maintained especially in regard to the Palisades nuclear plant.” He pointed out that “Palisades’ reactor pressure vessel is acknowledged as the most embrittled in the U.S., and one of the oldest in the entire world.” Mayor Hopewell, speaking on behalf of the city of Kalamazoo, “within forty miles of the Palisades nuclear power plant,” strongly objected to this “unprecedented alternative proposal” that would “allow Palisades to circumvent testing actual samples of the facility’s most critical safety component, the reactor pressure vessel.” Allowing mathematical interpolations “while omitting any direct analysis of physical data taken from the Palisades reactor pressure vessel itself compromises the integrity of any analysis.” The letter concluded that “Scrutiny of the Palisades reactor pressure vessel should be strengthened not diminished.”

In spite of Mayor Hopewell’s strong objections, and a similar letter from Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell, and an amicus brief filed by the Sierra Club, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission overruled its own Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel and rolled back the safety standard.

Ethyl Rivera of Alliance to Halt Fermi 3 explained the “Got KI?” program.

Ethyl Rivera, Co-Chair, Alliance to Halt Fermi 3, special guest speaker at the Palisades Forum

Ethyl Rivera, Co-Chair, Alliance to Halt Fermi 3

Fermi 1, Detroit Edison’s first nuclear plant, was barely past its experimental stages when it had a nearly disastrous partial meltdown in 1966, right there on Lake Erie between Detroit and Toledo. (See We Almost Lost Detroit.) Detroit Edison tried restarting Fermi 1 in 1970. In ’72 they gave up. They shut it down permanently and decided to start over. Sixteen years later, in November of ’88, they finally got Fermi 2 operating commercially. In 2008 Detroit Edison, known today as DTE, submitted an application to the NRC to build Fermi 3. Three years ago, a group of DTE’s neighbors went to work. They formed the Alliance to Halt Fermi 3. Although the NRC has okayed DTE’s Fermi 3 proposal, the Nuclear Energy Institute reported on April 21 (the day of our Palisades Forum) that “DTE has not yet decided to go ahead with construction of Fermi 3.”

An important part of the plan that Ethyl Rivera and the Alliance to Halt Fermi 3 developed is a campaign to make sure people have their KI (that’s the chemical name for potassium iodide). Iodine-131 is one of the radioactive isotopes present in the fallout from a nuclear disaster. Since it’s a form of iodine, it will go straight to your thyroid. Taking KI immediately before exposure will block iodine-131’s attack on your thyroid. It will keep thyroid cancer from being what kills you if you’re downwind from a nuclear plant catastrophe.

From the American Thyroid Association:

Why offer KI to people just within 10 or 20 miles of a plant? can’t radiation be harmful farther away?

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has recommended distribution of KI to individuals residing within 10 miles of a nuclear plant.

The American Thyroid Association (ATA) recommends that KI distribution not be limited to 10 or 20 miles. No one can predict how far a radioactive iodine cloud might spread. After Chornobyl, higher than expected rates of thyroid cancer were found more than 200 miles away from the nuclear plant. Thus, no one can predict how far from a nuclear plant the U.S. should distribute KI if it is to protect every person who might be exposed to radioactive iodine. Because there is no right answer, the American Thyroid Association recommends three levels of coverage, determined by distance from the nuclear plant:

distance action
•0 – 50 mi Pre-distribute KI to households, keep stockpile near
•50 – 200 mi Stockpile KI in local public facilities (hospitals, schools, police and fire stations)
•> 200 mi Make KI available from HHS National stockpile.
This KI distribution map was available at the Palisades Forum

Palisades distribution plan. Click to enlarge.

KI pills are available free to people who live near nuclear plants, but fewer than 6% of eligible Michigan residents have their KI pills – mostly because people don’t know about the program. The Alliance’s “Got KI?” campaign uses public events, flyers, door hangers, and other tools, emphasizing publicity and public education.

The Department of Health and Human Services “administers” the KI program in Michigan. The program is awkward, inconvenient, and next to invisible. Worse, it puts the distribution burden on Michigan citizens – not on the nuclear plant, and not on the State.

You need a voucher to get your pills. The voucher is usually available only in the “Emergency Preparedness” booklet that you may or may not have received in the mail, and may or may not have paid attention to if you did get it.

Click here to download a pdf version of the booklet. You’ll be able to print the voucher, which appears just past the middle of the pdf file on pages 15 and 16. It’s pages 3 and 4 of the insert.

You must fill out the voucher and take it to one of four Meijer pharmacies – three in southwest Michigan and one in Michigan City, Indiana. (See the map on the right.) The pills are available only to those who live, work, or attend school within ten miles of a nuclear plant. (For more details about KI, click here.)

The Alliance to Halt Fermi 3 is pushing for KI distribution within a 50-mile radius of any nuclear plant, as recommended by the American Thyroid Association. ATA further recommends that KI be stockpiled and available within a 200-mile radius. According to ATA, “France, Ireland, Sweden, and Switzerland not only stockpile KI but pre-distribute KI to their populations.” Last November 200,000 homes within 10 km (about 6¼ miles) of the Pickering and Darlington nuclear plants near Toronto got their free KI pills in the mail – a shorter radius but 100% coverage.

About 45 minutes of Q&A and public comment followed the Palisades Forum presentations.

The 60 or so people on hand had lots of questions. Most already knew about the Palisades threat. Some learned that the danger was greater than they knew. The potassium iodide issue was new information for many, and sparked much of the discussion. One comment was that many of us were leaving with more questions than we had before we came to the Palisades Forum. The big questions: What can we do? Where do we go from here?

Many who attended seemed ready to get to work. We will soon send out notifications about campaign planning and brainstorming sessions.

You can find more details about our Palisades Forum at the report posted on the Beyond Nuclear website. We also made the evening news on Channel 3.

More info on Palisades from Sierra Club Southwest Michigan Group and why our coalition is working for SHUTDOWN BEFORE MELTDOWN: