The condition for license renewal of nuclear facilities, such as the two 1970s vintage power plants at the Indian Point Energy Center in northwestern Westchester County, should be proof that they cause no harm.
That was the stand taken Tuesday at Earthplace in Westport by Joseph Mangano, the executive director of Radiation and Public Health Project (RPHP), a science-research group based in New York.
RPHP is questioning regulatory approval of a 20-year license extension for the Indian Point plants, when their current licenses expire in 2013 and 2015. The operator of the plants, Entergy Nuclear of Jackson, Miss., applied for the extensions a year ago.
Mangano was addressing a press conference called to release an RPHP report, which claims that cities and towns in Fairfield County are not only at risk from a catastrophic meltdown or terrorist attack on Indian Point, but also from routine releases of more than 100 radioactive chemicals.
He said that within 45 miles of the Westchester site of the power plants, from Greenwich to Bridgeport, residents have been "breathing, eating and drinking radioactivity" in varying amounts, depending on distance from the site and weather factors, especially wind and rain conditions.
According to the RPHP report, more radioactivity has been released over time from the Indian Point power plants than was emitted from the 1979 Three Mile Island meltdown in Pennsylvania.
The RPHP Web site describes the research group, as "dedicated to understanding the relationship between low-level radiation and public health."
"Every day, the plants must release a small amount of radioactivity," Mangano said in rejecting the possibility of safe nuclear energy. "Federal permissible levels are just poor science."
In response to a question about nuclear energy as an alternative to fossil-fuel generated power, Mangano said it would only result in "trading one poison for another," quoting California Sen. Barbara Boxer.
One of the radioactive chemicals emitted steadily at low levels from nuclear power plants, according to the RPHP report, is Strontium-90 (Sr-90), which the report states "can cause cancer, especially in children, who are most sensitive to exposure."
"We've done a study of 5,000 donated baby teeth and published five journal articles on the results," Mangano said, noting that Sr-90 has a half-life of 28.7 years and behaves like calcium in attaching to bone and teeth.
That study, according to the report, found Sr-90 levels in baby teeth to be 30-50 percent higher in areas closest to nuclear facilities, which the report says total 104 nationally.
A study of more than 500 teeth in the New York metropolitan area, according to Mangano, found the highest Sr-90 levels in the four New York counties closest to Indian Point: Westchester, Rockland, Orange and Putnam.
He said that a relatively small sample of teeth in Fairfield County showed a higher average level of Sr-90 than the levels in New York City and on Long Island and that more funding would be needed to expand the study in Connecticut.
"We've tested 32 teeth in Fairfield County. That's enough to create level patterns, but not enough to factor in wind and rain. It would be good to have 100."
The RPHP report cites statistical evidence from cancer studies showing that "the portion of Fairfield County with the highest incidence rates are the towns in the southwest part of the state, directly downwind and closest to Indian Point."
Gail Merrill, a New Canaan resident and cancer survivor, spoke at the press conference about the devastating effect of cancer in Fairfield County communities. She called on Gov. M. Jodi Rell to support public funding of tooth studies in the state.
"While many factors contribute to cancer risk, evidence suggests that more detailed study on Indian Point is warranted, and that residents of Fairfield County be informed of any potential health risks," the report states, referring to the regulatory review of Indian Point for license extension.
"We want Connecticut to wake up. All the concern has been on the New York side, but Connecticut has the risks without any use of the electricity," Mangano said in pledging his group to an educational campaign in Connecticut about what he sees as the health risks posed by Indian Point.