Who will suffer most if things go wrong with nuclear power? Dean Kyne answers the question with a first-of-its-kind dissertation on nuclear risks from an environmental justice perspective.
Kyne graduates this May with a doctorate in environmental social science from the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at Arizona State University.
In his study of 104 nuclear reactors located in 65 nuclear power plant sites nationwide, he studied the host communities within a 50-mile radius from a nuclear power plant. He searched for any particular group which disproportionately shoulders the burdens of potential risks associated with nuclear energy, including disparities in socio-economic characteristics and minority population groups.
Kyne realized that he and his family were living a few miles from Three Mile Island, the 1979 site of the largest nuclear accident in the United States, when a reactor suffered a partial meltdown.
When his wife developed a thyroid condition during her second pregnancy, he asked their physician if living that close to a nuclear facility was a possible cause. “The doctor told me that no study or research had been done that could give me a conclusive answer,” says Kyne.
This began a series of questions in Kyne’s mind. Are there dangers in living very close to a nuclear energy plant? In the event of an accident, who would be affected in the nearby community? What was the demographic make-up of the surrounding population?
“We are all living with invisible risks,” says Kyne. His Palo Verde simulated meltdown concluded that more than half of Arizona’s population could be affected, depending on such variables as wind speed, time of year, and weather conditions. A 10 mile-per-hour wind, for example, could carry the radioactive plume 50 miles into the heart of Phoenix within five hours.