Michigan Officials Say State is Prepared for Radiation Disaster

By: Alex Goldsmith Email
By: Alex Goldsmith Email

Michigan relies heavily on nuclear power. Department of Energy figures show that more than a quarter of electricity generated in Michigan comes from the state's 3 nuclear power plants and 4 reactors.

The ongoing crisis at Japan's Fukushima plant is bringing that source of power into question.

Here at home, a recent study published by the American Medical Association shows that the majority of US states are simply not prepared to handle radiation emergencies. In a nationwide survey, many state officials say they would defer to federal expertise and personnel if such a situation were to arise.

That's not the case in Michigan according to representatives with the Department of Community Health (MDCH) and Michigan State Police. Those two organizations as well as several other state agencies, including the Departments of Agriculture and Environmental Quality, all have plans in place in case there was ever a radiation problem either at a nuclear reactor or otherwise.

In fact, state officials conducted nuclear preparedness drills just two weeks ago at the Cook plant in southwest Michigan.

The MDCH has had a program since 2009 that pays for potassium iodide pills, which are designed to minimize thyroid cancer risks during radiation emergencies, for anyone who lives within ten miles of a nuclear reactor.

Even so, nuclear engineering professors at the University of Michigan say the safety systems at Michigan's nuclear plants are top notch.

"Our systems, the operators are trained, there are systems in place where we can operate the critical systems of the plant and cool the plant, even if there's a total blackout," said William Martin, a nuclear engineering professor at the University of Michigan.

And even in the worst case scenario, the type of uranium being used in these plants cannot cause an explosion similar to the one seen in the infamous Chernobyl incident.

"It's just not possible for these reactors, water-cooled reactors, to gain criticality again," said John Lee, a nuclear engineering professor at the University of Michigan. "It's just not physically possible."

Conditions similar to those in Japan aren't likely to exist either. The tsunami equivalent for Michigan's lakes is known as a seiche and the highest recorded waves for Lake Michigan are 10 feet, well short of the 30 foot tsunami surges that battered the coast of Japan.

The strongest earthquake ever recorded in Michigan was a 4.6 back in 1947. For reference, that's 20,000 times less powerful than the 8.9 magnitude earthquake that shook Japan last week.

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