Physical Insights

An independent scientist’s observations on society, technology, energy, science and the environment. “Modern science has been a voyage into the unknown, with a lesson in humility waiting at every stop. Many passengers would rather have stayed home.” – Carl Sagan

Chemical releases from nuclear power plants

with 5 comments

I’m sure many of you have seen this. (Full size poster here.)

They claim to have based this comprehensive list on actual government data.

If anyone knows where any such source data comes from, I’d really like to see it.

Over at Depleted Cranium, they’ve already had a good attempt at exposing the stupidity and ignorance of this campaign.

Nitrogen comprises 78% of Earth’s atmosphere.

All municipal water supplies have Chlorine added to them, and the vast majority have Fluoride added, too.

BULAB 6002 is a liquid cationic polyquaternary ammonium compound, used to control the growth of microorganisms in commercial and industrial water systems, such as cooling towers.

It is approved for use in drinking water in the US by ANSI/NSF.

Many chemicals on the list are indeed used as biocides, corrosion inhibitors, oxygen scavengers and such forth, in the water systems of a nuclear power plant.

Such requirements for controlling the water chemistry are needed at any thermal power plant using water as the working fluid, say for example at any coal-fired power plant.

The list is full of double counting!

Chlorine is double counted, and so is Ammonia. Then they’ve counted Ammonium Hydroxide separately too – ammonia in aqueous solution and Ammonium Hydroxide are the same thing.

One chemical listed – nurobenzene – I’ve never heard of, and neither has Google – other than NRCs records of the submissions from these scientifically illiterate groups.

The list is stacked with Organochlorine insecticides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and polychlorinated biphenyls – persistent organic pollutants, and real ecological nasties.

Dieldrin, Dioxin, PCB, DDT – any scientifically literate environmentalist should immediately recoil in horror when these names are dropped – and I suspect that’s exactly the whole point of the exercise.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and dioxins, are often produced, in tiny trace quantities, in any combustion process.

If a security guard at Millstone, say, smokes a cigarette, then there is a release of PAHs into the environment.

But get real. By far the most enormous source of emissions of dangerous, carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons into the atmosphere is the uncontrolled, massive, discharge to the atmosphere of dangerous Fossil Fuel waste.

I don’t quite understand why a nuclear power plant would be using extremely potent organchlorine insecticides – would someone care to tell me?

What IS immediately obvious to me is that Chlordane, banned completely by the EPA in the 1988, or Toxaphene, banned for all uses in the US in 1990, are not being discharged by the Millstone Nuclear Power Plant.

Chemistry is scary!

I’m particularly interested in hearing about this issue from those who actually have real-world experience with nuclear power plants. Here in Australia, people with that experience are difficult to find.

Exactly what types of unusual chemicals are being discharged into the environment, in what quantities, from nuclear power plants, aside from the obvious ones like water vapor, detergent in the waste water from employees having a shower or rinsing a coffee mug?


Written by Luke Weston

August 18, 2007 at 7:41 am

5 Responses

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  1. Luke, you need to post an e-mail address so we can write to you. There is a very sophisticated attack on India’s nuclear program, which attacks their use of thorium/U-233. It is located here:

    It would be good for your review this and respond. It is not yet internationally circulating on the internet but is the basis for opposition to nuclear energy in India.

    This guy is no Helen Caldicott, but a very sophisticated engineer. He does repeat some of the stupid anti-atomic positions that you’ve attacked Caldicott for but a lot less of them.

    David Waltes

    David Walters

    August 18, 2007 at 12:38 pm

  2. Thanks David,

    My email address is on file in the WordPress profile, but i’m not sure how the public views your profile on here. Maybe I’m missing something obvious, but quickly poking around with the functionality of the site, I can’t find it.

    Anyway, if you grab my original Caldicott rebuttal (The big PDF), my email address is there. Sorry about that.


    August 18, 2007 at 12:57 pm

  3. When list claims they are basing it on actual government data, they may be looking at TRI data from the uranium mining and processing sector. The Canadian version of TRI, known as the NPRI, shows this sector to release very minor quantities of dioxin, furan and hexachlorobenzene, as well as a number of heavy metals, ammonia, nitrates,NOx, SO2, sulfuric acid, hydrogen flouride. Dieldrin, PCB and DDT seem quite a stretch however. I didn’t see these as part of the uranium mining and processing release inventory. For more info, see a report by a Canadian environmental organization known as “The Pembina Institute”, who appear to be gearing up to fight some interest expressed in Alberta, Canada in building a nuclear reactor or two:

    T. Tarpey

    August 20, 2007 at 3:44 am

  4. Yes, I pointed out that poster is a bit on the ridiculous side. It seems like they just tacked on every chemical they could think of that sounded bad. DDT, for example… not sure what that has to do with nuclear power.

    Others range from dangerous in high levels: IE, Cadmium. It’s not something you’d want to swim in, but a NiCad battery is hardly something you need to call the EPA about finding.

    Dangerous, but easily detectable at high levels: Ammonia, which could be toxic, but would be noticed miles away with it’s thick and unmistakable smell

    and a few… well… ridiculous: Copper, Iron, nitrogen.

    Yes, it’s true. Millstone releases lots and lots of nitrogen each day. RUN! PANIC!


    August 22, 2007 at 7:32 pm

  5. I would like to request a blog topic 🙂 reading through it is obvious that you are fairly well versed on the issue of nuclear energy- but i doubt we share the same sentiments- I would like to know a little more about why you choose the views you do- I would like to know your position on the exploitation and abuse of colony nations by the US in particular (ie: the Marshallese) While i understand the benefit to nuclear energy as a commodity, the dilemma over what to do with waste seems to be the kicker- several native american populations here suffer due to radiological testing aftermath or run off into essential land and water- and they are proposing further damage now by placing a waste site in the lands of the shoshone and paiute (yukka mountain). If that wasnt enough to make me willing to sacrifice any commodity or comercial benefit my life gains through nuclear power– the people who the US has destroyed in an effort to become a superpower during the cold war whose lives and homes they have ripped from them– the US is now proposing they use the already contaminated lands as waste storage facilities– for a people that already is lacking land resources and was just praying to one day have use of their land again– they also thought it appropriate to pay them to use another of the islands as a giant landfill…. so… I just dont understand how our way of life justifies ripping an entire community to shreds and causing countless cases of suffering which the US continues to ignore (by not even taking a second glance at their Changed Conditions Proposal). I would be very interested to hear what you think on these issues 🙂 (I think i understand it that you are not from the US- though I am– but please feel free to bash if you so see fit– anyway– hope to hear from you on the issue soon!)


    November 26, 2007 at 10:33 pm

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