Nuclear Power Plants Threaten Drinking Water for 6.7 Million Pennsylvanians

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Philadelphia Is the 2nd Largest City in the Country with Water Supplies at Risk

PennPIRG Education Fund

Philadelphia, PA – The drinking water for 6.7 million people in Pennsylvania could be at risk of radioactive contamination from a leak or accident at a local nuclear power plant, says a new study released today by the Pennsylvania Public Interest Research Group (PennPIRG) Education Fund.

“The danger of nuclear power is too close to home.  Here in Pennsylvania, active nuclear power plants are too close to the drinking water for 6.7 million people,” said Alana Miller, PennPIRG Education Fund Program Associate.  “An accident like the one in Fukushima, Japan, or a leak, could spew cancer-causing radioactive waste into our drinking water.”

The nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, Japan last year drew a spotlight on the many risks associated with nuclear power. After the disaster, airborne radiation left areas around the plant uninhabitable, and even contaminated drinking water sources near Tokyo, 130 miles from the plant.

According to the new report, “Too Close to Home: Nuclear Power and the Threat to Drinking Water,” the drinking water for 6.7 million people in Pennsylvania is within 50 miles of an active nuclear power plant – the distance the Nuclear Regulatory Commission uses to measure risk to food and water supplies. Also, the 2.4 million residents of Philadelphia and its suburbs receive their drinking water from a source within 50 miles of a nuclear plant.

Radiation from a disaster like the one in Fukushima can contaminate drinking water and food supplies, as well as harm human health.  But disaster or no disaster, a common leak at a nuclear power plant can also threaten the drinking water for millions of people.  As nuclear facilities get older, leaks are more common.  In fact, 75 percent of U.S. nuclear plants have leaked tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen that can cause cancer and genetic defects.

Local bodies of water also play a critical role in cooling nuclear reactors and are at risk of contamination.  In the case of the Fukushima meltdown, large quantities of seawater were pumped into the plant to cool it, and contaminated seawater was then dumped back into the ocean, carrying radioactivity from the plant with it. 

The Schuylkill River provides cooling water for the Limerick nuclear plant, about 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia, and could be at risk. Meanwhile, the Susquehanna River provides cooling water for three other nuclear power plants in the state, Peach Bottom, Susquehanna and Three Mile Island.

“With nuclear power, there’s too much at risk and the dangers are too close to home. Pennsylvanians shouldn’t have to worry about getting cancer from drinking a glass of water,” said Miller.

The report recommends that the United States moves to a future without nuclear power by retiring existing plants, abandoning plans for new plants, and expanding energy efficiency and the production clean, renewable energy such as wind and solar power.

In order to reduce the risks nuclear power poses to water supplies immediately, the report recommends completing a thorough safety review of U.S. nuclear power plants, requiring plant operators to implement recommended changes immediately and requiring nuclear plant operators to implement regular groundwater tests in order to catch tritium leaks, among other actions.


The Pennsylvania Public Interested Research Group (PennPIRG) Education Fund is a citizen-based non-profit organization. We conduct research and public education on behalf of Pennsylvania’s consumers and the public interest.