(Photo: mandj98 via Flickr.com)

(Photo: mandj98 via Flickr.com)

A coalition of environmental groups is asking federal regulators to put the brakes on the proposed expansion of the Fermi nuclear power plant in Monroe County on the grounds that it is unnecessary and poses threats to the environment and human health.

Beyond Nuclear, Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination, Citizens Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario, Don’t Waste Michigan and the Sierra Club, are all representing locals who live within 50 miles of Fermi and therefore have legal standing to intervene in the reactor permitting process.

According to Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Scott Burnell, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, a panel of administrative law judges, will determine whether the groups’ contentions should be introduced as part of the hearing on the permit. There is one operational nuclear reactor at the electricity-generating complex in Monroe County’s Frenchtown Township, known as Fermi 2. Fermi 1 shut down in 1972.

Among the coalition’s 14 objections is that DTE Energy, the power company that is seeking a permit to build the Fermi 3 reactor, has failed to adequately consider the impact of cumulative toxic discharges into Lake Erie and the Great Lakes system.

The reactor’s use of Lake Erie water for cooling as well as planned and permitted and unplanned releases of radionuclides into the lake will damage fish and degrade the Great Lakes basin, which already hosts 33 licensed nuclear reactors, critics argue.

And spent fuel from the plant will be kept on site — perhaps forever, since the Obama administration has withdrawn support for the planned Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage facility in Nevada. The presence of nuclear waste so close to the water supply for tens of million of people represents a threat to security and the environment, the groups contend.

The coalition says that the emergency response planning for the plant is inadequate and that the five Jefferson district schools within a five-mile radius of the plant do not have adequate buses to evacuate students in the event of an emergency.

Michigan Messenger reporting spurs action by coalition and state health officials

In discussion of concerns about potential human health effects, the anti-Fermi coalition included two Michigan Messenger dispatches in its filing with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

Michigan Messenger has been the only news outlet to report on new studies that warn of a possible link between increases in cancer and operations at Fermi.

In November, Michigan Messenger reported that Professor Janette Sherman of Western Michigan University  had published a study that found an increase in childhood leukemia deaths near older nuclear reactors.

In January, Michigan Messenger reported on an analysis, by Joseph Mangano of the Radiation and Public Health Project, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data on cancer deaths among young people in Monroe County. Mangano found that Monroe cancer rates had increased dramatically since operations began at Fermi 2 and he urged public health officials to investigate.

In February, in response to a request by Michigan Messenger, the Vital Records Division of the Michigan Department of Community Health generated a report on cancer trends among young people in Monroe County. With the help of epidemiologists from the University of Michigan, Michigan State and Western Michigan University, a Michigan Messenger analysis noted that the cancer rate among people under 25 in Monroe County appears to have grown at three times the rate of the state as a whole between 1996 and 2005.

Also, following Michigan Messenger reports on concerns about elevated cancer rates in Monroe County, the Michigan Department of Community Health this week agreed to investigate cancer patterns there.

Environmental epidemiologist Robert Wahl of the department’s Environmental Health Division explained that while the state compiles data from clinicians on cancer cases in the state it does not have the resources to evaluate that data for trends and relies on citizens to alert the department when worrying cancer trends appear.

Wahl said he would use Michigan Messenger’s reporting on Monroe County cancer rates as a starting point for analysis of cancer trends there.