March 22 World Water Day. It's raining. And there's mud everywhere in my part of the world. Our lives are defined by water. We begin in a small salty sea inside our mothers. Ion exchanges and electron shifts inside our watery brains make up our thoughts. Wetware- that's what one computer designer called us- (as opposed to hardware and software.) I've just finished editing a collection of stories about small town life on the shore of a Great Lake. Good memoirs, they say, introduce the reader to a new and unfamiliar world. Perhaps each of us should take a few minutes to ponder how the world of water influences us.
My most recent book about talking cats not withstanding, I'm primarily a nonfiction writer. And I've lived within earshot of one of earth's biggest lakes for much of my life. It's supplied me with lots of material. Events in Japan last week take me back nearly twenty year to meetings here in Oswego about nuclear safety issues. There are sixteen nuclear reactors, a Uranium refinery and a tritium recovery facility on Lake Ontario. And two new nukes are proposed for Darlington about across from Rochester maybe 100 miles or so from here as the krypton cloud drifts. In fact there was a public meeting about that March 21. I bet some people showed up!
neighborhood nuke at Nine Mile Point
Some years back an activist from Louisiana once organized a half dozen events and meetings in Oswego with the NRC, with Senator Schumer, the city council and others. She was a small wiry woman of great energy. I called her the 'hot particle' because she was so passionate in her dislike of nuclear power. She knew a lot about it too would talk about it for hours, and seemed to have really good contacts inside the power plants feeding her information. Rumor had it, she had once worked in the industry. I recall her remark that the GE boiling water reactors like those in Japan and at Nine Mile Point were “cheap dirty and dangerous”. She said it was so because they lacked a full blown separate containment structure like the pressurized water reactor at Ginna east of Rochester. She said the concrete shell and torus of the boiling water reactors were weaker. Maybe she was right.
Here's what the NY Times said last week. “ the type of containment vessel and pressure suppression system used in the failing reactors at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant is physically less robust, and it has long been thought to be more susceptible to failure in an emergency than competing designs. In the United States, 23 reactors at 16 locations use the Mark 1 design, including the Oyster Creek plant in central New Jersey, the Dresden plant near Chicago and the Monticello plant near Minneapolis. And Oswego. G.E. began making the Mark 1 boiling-water reactors in the 1960s, marketing them as cheaper and easier to build — in part because they used a comparatively smaller and less expensive containment structure. Ah yes...the ever present bottom line.
And at the U.S, plants, anyway, (I don't now about the Canadian plants) the spent fuel pools are just sitting inside a metal clad equivalent of your basic warehouse. One evening Cindy herded us all into the city council chambers and got a seismologist to come and speak. He talked about the “inactive” fault under Pickering near Toronto and at our end of the lake. The belief was/is? No earthquake could possibly ever be severe enough to damage our nukes. It can't happen here. Our models and statistics show its safe!
In 1994 many years after Nine Mile 1 started boiling, a team of researchers from Waterloo U in Ontario cited evidence of a possibly major fault under Lake Ontario that had previously gone unrecognized. It was once thought significant quakes occurred only at continental plate edges ( like Japan). But the Waterloo guys cite evidence that suggests a major quake occurred here about 3600 years ago and helped re shape the lakes into their present form. Of course it might not happen for another 3600 years. Or it might be next year. They took pains to point out the many uncertainties and gaps in their data. Yet, it would seem worth a bit more funding for further research wouldn't it?
New Nukes? Yeah they're probably coming. But we should weigh all the aspects of this and other energy sources. Let's understand that ALL energy production impacts our earth and water. Dams block fish runs. Some think the power dams on the St Lawrence may have helped our local eels along towards extinction. Hydrofracking for natural gas pollutes water and air and causes quakes. Nuclear Plants suck in huge quantities of water and cook all the plankton in it and make waste that causes cancer for ten thousand years. Coal plants release mercury and make lakes in the Adirondacks acid and it's claimed release more radioactivity than nukes do. ( The coal P R people may not be able to claim that much longer though if things go down hill in Japan.) And oil makes a horrendous mess when it spills out of a well or a ship. Water. We have lot. Why worry? Well, we do have a lot here, though all the Great Lakes are less than one drop if a bottle of wine represented earth's entire water supply. Water here shaped our national northern boundary. It gave America's oldest freshwater port life. And it continues to inspire artist poet and writer today.
How has water impacted your life? Let your wetware ponder that today.