PERSPECTIVE: “Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink” 1 : The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Response to Tritium Contamination
Last year, the Union of Concerned Scientists, joined by environmental organizations and members of the public (including the author), filed a petition with the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The petition requested that the NRC take a single action: that it utilize its enforcement authority to demand information from its licensees concerning the nature and extent of tritium contamination of groundwater. The scope of this request was extremely narrow, considering the ubiquity of tritium contamination at every link in the nuclear fuel chain. Tritium contamination has become a marker for the varieties of radioactive contamination left in the wake of producing what the nuclear industry likes to call “safe and clean” energy. Yet mining, milling, processing, enrichment, fuel fabrication, fuel utilization and storage at nuclear reactors, disposal of radioactive waste, and attempted reprocessing of nuclear fuel have resulted in massive amounts of tritium- (and other radionuclide) contaminated groundwater.
c1 Address correspondence to Jonathan M. Block, Attorney at Law, PO Box 566, Putney, VT 05346-0566; (e-mail) [email protected]
1 S. T. Coleridge, 1798, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” available at http://etext.virginia.edu/stc/Coleridge/poems/Rime_Ancient_Mariner.html, accessed February 19, 2007. In the poem, the Ancient Mariner kills the Albatross and is forced to wear the dead bird around his neck to attempt to reverse the curse following such a thoughtless act. Penance avails him not; he suffers the agonies of Hell, afflicted with thirst and surrounded by water that cannot slake it.