A fish taken from the Connecticut River in Vermont tested positive for strontium-90, according to a recent AP report. The fish was caught near the Yankee nuclear power plant. The local department of public health said the very small amount of strontium-90 found in the fish is not a health hazard, and is even likely to be common in other fish in Vermont and New England. They say the source is from strontium-90 released into the earth’s atmosphere during the testing of atomic weapons decades ago, and from the Chernobyl melt down over twenty years ago. William Irwin, Chief of Radiological Health said, “Even if in edible portions, there is no expected, measurable health risk from the consumption of fish contaminated from these extremely low, fallout-derived quantities of strontium-90.”
A Vermont nuclear engineer, Bob Gunderson had doubts about the assumed connection between the fish and previous nuclear radiation from bomb tests and Chernobyl. He said if the fish’s radioactivity came from those sources it would also contain cesium-137, but it didn’t. He also would rather see testing for hundreds of fish for strontium-90 rather than the small numbers that were tested.
The Dept. of Health’s own website states the radioactive fish were taken near the nuclear plant: “So far, a small number of fish samples have been taken from the Vernon Pool, (the large pool of the Connecticut River near the discharge structure at Vermont Yankee formed by the Vernon Dam) and upstream further away from the plant.”
Earlier this year, soil near the plant also tested positive for strontium-90. It was excavated and removed. Further compounding the puzzling situation, is the fact that in January 2010 the plant experienced a leak of tritium from corroded pipes. The tritium leak was discovered after sampling of a groundwater monitoring well. The tritium did leak into the Connecticut River, “Well test results from other groundwater monitoring wells drilled since January show the movement of tritium contamination in the groundwater generally west to east into the Connecticut River.”
Another radioactive fish was found four miles upstream from the plant. The public health official William Irwin said the strontium-90 couldn’t have come from the plant because the fish was too far away to be contaminated. David Deen, a local river conservationist cast doubt on that comment when he noted that fish can, and do swim many miles: “Deen said four miles was insignificant to any species of fish, noting he had seen studies of the Battenkill that brown trout have moved 16 miles.”
For a situation where the potential for a health hazard is involved, and a hazard to the species of the river ecosystem, its difficult to have such an irresolution, or lack of clarity. Currently we have a somewhat similar situation with the Gulf oil spill. There are more questions than satisfying answers.