Great Lakes Activists Continue Fight Against DTE Nuclear Reactor
by Jesse Deer In Water
Siyo, tohitsu? Hello, how are you? A common greeting amongst my peoples in Northeast Oklahoma, The Tsalagi (Cherokee) and Keetoowah; a place where I was introduced to the impacts of the nuclear industry through firsthand experience within the community impacted by the Sequoyah Fuels uranium processing plant located in Sequoyah County, Oklahoma; also home to some of the sacred ceremonial grounds and Cherokee communities. Though I know that settler colonialism and the nuclear industry have direct ties, the story is long and at times endless. I haven’t come to necessarily tell it in its entirety, but I must tell a part of it because most of us are tied directly to it.
I know the socio-landscape is wild right now: pandemonium/politics, nations falling/ native voices rising, viruses/colonization, war/science, power/extraction, superiority/nuclear advancement, supreme ideals/bombs for domination, life/growth and healing/futures. Between all this, tucked away within the crevices, is a reality for those of us depending on the Great Lakes for our life support— this reality is the safety of our water.
With the occurrence of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), agricultural runoff, the Detroit River dock collapse on a forgotten hazardous site, and proposed permanent nuclear waste storage, we are becoming aware of what threatens us, and we are developing and envisioning alternative and cleaner futures. I have come forward with both another threat of potential catastrophe and the alternative.
By now a lot of us are aware of DTE Energy’s ploys to exploit customer pockets through a long list of surcharges and rate increases to pay for their ventures. What is not known is some of the other shortcuts being utilized to save and make money. One example is their Enrico Fermi 2 nuclear facility in Frenchtown, Monroe County, Michigan. The behemoth is the largest of its kind and the same model as the Fukushima reactor that melted down in Japan after a power outage caused the spent fuel pool (SFP) to go critical. This catastrophe is still being felt as more and more things are testing positive for radiation across the Pacific Ocean.
The Fermi 2 nuclear reactor was opened in 1988 and in 1993 it threw a turbine, which is used to cool the plant and nearly had a meltdown on Christmas Day. DTE attempted to move forward by running the plant on half capacity, when a group of concerned citizens banded strong and formed CRAFT (Citizens Resistance At Fermi Two) and intervened. After a string of legal battles, some key members moved out of state and CRAFT fell by the wayside. Around eight years ago key members found themselves back here after the Fukushima meltdown and knew they had to revive CRAFT. Since then, we have worked diligently to keep Detroit Edison in check and raise public awareness around shutting Fermi 2 down and protecting the Great Lakes.
The Enrico Fermi 2 nuclear facility uses 45 million-plus gallons of water a day for its cooling process, during which it circulates, treats, and releases the water back into Lake Erie. Erie, right? Only the water that comes out of the plant is not the same water that went in. It’s now been diluted with waste and treatment chemicals at a 10:1 dilution ratio, making 4.5 million gallons of waste being released back into Lake Erie, per day; this at temperatures up to 70 degrees hotter than the average of those measured along the western basin of Lake Erie. Thermal pollution and wastewater are not the only issue here. Onsite waste storage and the maintenance of the SFP is one of our main focuses currently.
When DTE sought to relicense the facility in 2015 until 2045, making it 65 years old, there was a whole list of compromised issues DTE committed to fix, update and address in the agreement between them and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The problem is that DTE got the license extension based on their commitments to fix the waste storage and now they are going back to modify that agreement. Currently, CRAFT has filed a leave to intervene and ask for a public hearing on DTEs License Amendment Request, which is something that is done when they want to invalidate an agreement with the NRC.
In the original license agreement, DTE has committed to clean up and update Neutron Absorbing Materials (NAM) in the SFP. The old material, called Boraflex, which is heavily degraded, is to be cleaned out and replaced with the updated version named Boral. Now DTE wants to do almost the opposite by building over it and leaving behind the degraded old materials.
This will be done by covering the degraded NAM with snap-in neutron absorbers, which are exactly that— snap-ins and welds, leaving behind materials which will and already are, clogging systems used to filter, leading to system breakdown. That is not the content of the future I imagine we want to collectively envision.
So, boom! Did you know nuclear waste is being stored on Lake Erie shores within 30 miles of Detroit? Did you know our local corporate monopoly of a power company is cutting corners? Did you know this is putting the safety of the Great Lakes, and all life sustained there, on the chopping block by going back on this commitment they made in their agreement with the NRC? Did you know there are alternatives that look like “the light at the end of the tunnel”?
We at CRAFT imagine a world where the Great Lakes are free of nuclear waste. We can see Fermi 2 decommissioned and the stored waste removed from Lake Erie shores. A future where that same power produced by the facility can be produced by renewable energy, preferably solar, on rooftops, distributed energy storage, with community ownership over the grid. This, plus trade school or community college type settings to help facilitate and provide the knowledge for education and training, with just transition principles applied. This would of course be down the line and be a part of a larger collaboration of communities and peoples. All over Detroit, the metro area, state, nation and world, people are working and creating the models while living the futures. For me, that’s easy enough to see if you follow Riverwise magazine. We believe this transition for SE Michigan to be possible. Until then we hold DTE accountable in their agreements, including nuclear. With proper support and solidarity, we can achieve this attainable goal and change the current status quo. Donadagohvi, until we meet again.
Donations to CRAFT, the shut down of Fermi II and the protection of the Great Lakes can be made at CRAFT website, www.shutdownfermi.net.