Health Department Says Strontium-90 Found In Conn. River Fish

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(Host) The Vermont Health Department says the radioactive substance strontium-90 has been detected in the flesh of a fish north of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.

The Health Department can’t say for certain if Vermont Yankee is the source of the radioactive material, but the discovery has prompted Gov. Peter Shumlin to call on Yankee to pump more contaminated water from the ground in order to protect the environment.

VPR’s John Dillon has more.

(Dillon) The Health Department says the strontium-90 has been found in other, inedible portions of Connecticut River fish in earlier samples.

But this is the first time the radioactive isotope has been found in a part of a fish that is edible. The substance turned up in a small mouth bass caught about nine miles upstream of the nuclear plant.

Bill Irwin’s is the department’s radiological health chief.

(Irwin) "It obviously is of concern to us. It’s a source that only comes from human activities. It’s not natural. But it’s not at quantities that are hazardous to our health."

(Dillon) Irwin says it’s difficult to pinpoint the source because strontium 90 is widespread in the environment from nuclear bomb testing in the 1950s and ‘60s. Irwin said more sampling is needed to determine if the strontium came from Vermont Yankee.

(Irwin) "And it’s important to note that so far we have not seen other radioactive materials from the plant in groundwater or other bodies of water, including drinking water, other than tritium."

(Dillon) The Health Department has been looking for additional signs of contamination since radioactive tritium was found leaking from the plant a year and a half ago. Strontium was also detected on the site, but Irwin says it wasn’t in the groundwater.

But Governor Peter Shumlin says the discovery of strontium in a fish upstream is more evidence that Vermont Yankee needs to do more to protect the environment. He wants the plant to use extraction wells to remove radioactive contamination from the groundwater.

Anti-nuclear activists also seized on the news. Bob Stannard is a lobbyist with Citizens Action Network, which wants the plant closed when its current license expires next March.

(Stannard) "I think it’s pretty clear, based on what I read of this report, that the strontium that’s showing up in fish in our Connecticut River is not from bombs but is from a leaking, aged nuclear power plant that’s at the end of its design life."

(Dillon) Stannard says the strontium in the fish also is bad news for the state’s tourism industry.

(Stannard) "If I’m coming up from down country and I want to do some fly fishing in Vermont, the Connecticut River is not where I’m going to go. And I may just bag Vermont completely and go to a state that doesn’t have strontium 90 showing up in their fish."

(Dillon) The Health Department plans to test additional fish both caught near the plant and upstream.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

(Host) A Vermont Yankee spokesman says there’s no – quote – "factual basis" for the governor’s suggestion that the plant is the source for the strontium. Yankee says no strontium has been found in 31 monitoring wells on plant grounds.


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