Radioactive fish sample found in Vermont

Taken upriver from N-plant site

Two youngsters went fishing in the Connecticut River across from the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. Two youngsters went fishing in the Connecticut River across from the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. (Jason R. Henske/Associated Press/File)
By Dave Gram
Associated Press / August 3, 2011

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MONTPELIER - Vermont health officials said yesterday that a radioactive substance had been found in a fish sample taken from the Connecticut River 9 miles upstream from the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.

The substance, strontium 90, is a byproduct of nuclear fission that has been linked to cancer and leukemia.

William Irwin, the state’s chief radiological health officer, said that the sample was unusual in that the strontium 90 was found in the fleshy, edible portion of the smallmouth bass sample. Irwin said the substance more often turns up in fish bones. Nine of 13 bone, head, and scale samples checked also turned up strontium 90, he said.

“It is to be expected to find strontium 90 in the bone, head, etcetera, because strontium is in the same chemical group as calcium,’’ Irwin said. “It is not as likely to be found in muscle tissue, yet the literature does describe results where they have found strontium 90 in the edible portion of fish. It’s just not as likely.’’

Irwin said the Health Department would do further investigation to see if more evidence could be gleaned tying the radioactivity to the Vermont Yankee plant. He said the finding could have been related to background levels in the environment resulting from above-ground atomic bomb testing in the 1960s and ’70s or from the Chernobyl accident in 1986.

He said it was doubtful the substance was from the Fukushima disaster in Japan this year, because that would not have had time to work its way through the environment and build up in fish tissue yet.

Governor Peter Shumlin, a frequent critic of Vermont Yankee and a supporter of closing the plant when its initial 40-year license expires in March, appeared to discount any source aside from Vermont Yankee.

“Today’s troubling news from the Vermont Department of Health is another example of Entergy Louisiana putting their shareholders’ profits above the welfare of Vermonters,’’ Shumlin said in a statement. “. . . I am asking my Health Department to keep a close eye on test results moving forward to determine the extent of any contamination that has reached the environment.’’

Entergy spokesman Larry Smith said in a statement that there was no evidence to suggest that Vermont Yankee was the source of the substance.

“We have 31 monitoring wells on site that are tested regularly,’’ Smith said “No ground-water sample from any well at Vermont Yankee has ever indicated the presence of strontium 90 or any other isotope other than tritium. We do not know why the governor would suggest Vermont Yankee is the source, but there is no factual basis for that suggestion.’’

Smith’s statement did not mention the plant’s announcement in May of 2010 that strontium 90 had been found not in ground water, but in soil samples taken from the plant’s grounds.