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US nuclear plant leaks fuel health concerns

Written by: Staff
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CHICAGO, Mar 4: Years of radioactive waste water spills from Illinois nuclear power plants have fueled suspicions the industry covers up safety problems and sparked debate about the risks from exposure to low-level radiation.

The recent, belated disclosures of leaks of the fission byproduct tritium from Exelon Corp.'s Braidwood, Dresden, and Byron twin-reactor nuclear plants -- one as long ago as 1996 -- triggered worries among neighbors about whether it was safe to drink their water, or even stay.

''How'd you like to live next to that plant and every time you turn on the tap to take a drink you have to think about whether it's safe?'' asked Joe Cosgrove, the head of parks in Godley, Illinois, a town adjacent to Braidwood.

Cosgrove and some scientists and anti-nuclear activists who monitor health issues related to nuclear power say the delay in reporting the spills is indicative of industry and regulatory obfuscation bordering on cover-up.

''We don't know what else has been leaked from that site.

When they close ranks, you can't believe them,'' Cosgrove said, referring to the plant owner and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which oversees safety at the nation's 103 commercial reactors, including 11 in Illinois.

Cosgrove recalled a 2002 spill of diesel fuel that was initially mischaracterized by Braidwood's operators as run-off from a parking lot. When information about the tritium spills arose as part of the town's since-dropped lawsuit over the fuel, Exelon asked the court to bar any questions about it.

A local doctor and his wife, Joseph and Cynthia Sauer, whose daughter contracted brain cancer when they lived near the Dresden plant, have collected data about heightened rates of cancer and birth defects near the Illinois plants in the period after the spills began. They say they were brushed off by the NRC.

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