Millstone and Me 2020
Michael Steinberg Black Rain Press
As a new decade approaches, I find myself reflecting on the 21st anniversary of my 1998 book, Millstone and Me: Sex, Lies and radiation in Southeastern Connecticut.
Perhaps the story of this book began with my mother. Midge, as everyone called her, was a nurse, and long before feminism, cell phones and networking, spent significant amounts of time talking with her women friends on the phone. In our home in the small town of Niantic in shoreline Southeastern Connecticut on Long Island Sound, there wasn't a whole lot of privacy, and Midge's conversations were broadcast around the house with little regard for who overheard her.
As time went on and my ears got larger and more curious, I couldn't help but notice that the topic of cancer was becoming increasingly prominent. Maybe this was because her big sister Grace had died of breast cancer long before her time not that long before, a story that would be repeated all too many times in our family.
In 1970 a nuclear power plant began operating on Niantic Bay, only about five miles across the Sound from out town beach, where we spent lots of time, especially during the summer. The nuke plant produced lots of electricity, and, as we would learn, lots of radiation as well, which regularly was released into our air and water.
This plant was aptly named Millstone, because it was built on the former site of a gigantic granite quarry, where my Scottish great-grandfather George Kirk had toiled. For me, like many of my contemporaries, my consciousness was first raised about nuclear power by the Pennsylvania Three Mile Island nuke's meltdown in 1979.
Later I discovered Dr.Ernest Sternglass's groundbreaking book Secret Fallout: From Hiroshima To Three Mile Island, which named Millstone as one of the worst nuclear plant in the nation. In his book Sternglass reported that large releases of radiation by Millstone in the 1970s had led to spikes of cancer deaths in surrounding towns after Millstone started operating.
In a 1978 report, using public information, he determined that from 1970, when Millstone started operating, until 1975, cancer cases in New London, just east of the plant, increased 44%, and in Waterford, site of the plant. they went up 58%. Similar spikes occurred for the state of Connecticut as a whole, as well as in downwind Rhode Island. Such increases did not occur in more distant New England states.
Sternglass's report also determined "that the types of cancer that rose most strongly in Connecticut were exactly those that had been found to be most sensitive to radiation, those being respiratory cancers (37% increase), pancreas cancer (32 % jump), and breast cancer (12 % spike). Another Sternglass finding was that rates of infant mortality (death within the first 30 days of life), which had been declining nationwide during the 1970s, began climb in Connecticut and Rhode Island after Millstone's startup.
Spurred on by Sternglass's findings, I decided, as an investigative journalist, to update his research while living in San Francisco in the mid '90s. I went to the University of California San Francisco medical library and consulted more recent volumes of government compiled Vital Statistics, collecting data on mortality, cancer deaths, infant mortality and such. Then I plotted the results on graph paper and sent a copy to Dr. Sternglass. Soon thereafter I heard back from him. He congratulated me on my work, then told me, "Your findings confirm out worst fears."
That's all I needed to hear. In the summer of '95 I returned to Niantic, where my two sisters lived (and still do) determined to write a book about Millstone.
Once back home, I began to learn that Millstone had other serious problems besides causing cancer and killing babies. Its three nuclear reactors were regularly closing down due to gross mismanagement resulting in explosions, leaks and other dangerous accidents.
A number of principled whistleblowers were coming forward to to address deteriorating conditions at the plant, some publicly. Some media picked up on this, finally resulting in several of the whistleblowers appearing on the cover of Time magazine in February 1996.
A group of concerned local folks sprang up to question Millstone's increasingly dangerous practices, myself among them. This was an unprecedented development in the "Submarine Capital of the World," where most of the nations nuclear submarines were being built. We called ourselves the Citizens Regulatory Commission.
As for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the mounting adverse publicity about Millstone finally nudged it into action. As each of Millstone's 3 reactors was inevitably forced to shut down, the NRC, which had habitually acted like the nuclear industry's lapdog rather than watchdog, allowing restart ASAP, now kept them closed, subjecting the reactors to much closer scrutiny.
Unit 1 never restarted, but the NRC eventually let other two reactors resume operations. And they're still going, still releasing potentially killer doses of radiation into the environment. Unit 2, which started up in 1975, is almost 45 years old. Nuclear reactors were designed to last only 40 years. The third reactor is 33 years of age.
Dr. Sternglass remained my mentor as I was writing Millstone and Me. In early 1998, epidemiologist Joseph Mangano along with Sternglass a founding member of the Radiation and Public Health Project, released an updated study about Millstone's horrible disease causing legacy.
Mangano found that since Millstone opened in 1970, "About 2500 excess cancers have occurred in New London County site of the nuke plant. Unfortunately 800 of those cancers were fatal.
Mangano also determined that in the '50s and '60s the incidence rate of cancer in the county was 8 % below the state average, rising to 2% below from 1979-84, and 2.5% ABOVE the state rate in 1989-91.
Mangano also found "in Millstone's first 14 years the county cancer mortality rate was 11% higher than the nation's rate compared to the '50s and 60s."
As for specific kinds of cancer in the nuke plant's first 14 years:
- leukemia cases in children under 10 were 55% higher than the state rate, the kiddy leukemia death rate being 45% higher.
-the thyroid cancer rate rose twice as fast as the rest of the state's after 1970.
In the four towns closest to Millstone, East Lyme (which Niantic is part of),Groton, Waterford , and New London female cancers were 20% higher than the state rate, including cervical cancer (26% higher), ovarian (35% greater), and uterine cancer (29% higher).
Malignant melanoma (a skin cancer) in the four towns was 65% higher than the state rate.
But despite all this damning evidence the NRC let reactors 2 and 3 restart, and still allows them to give off doses of death. Meanwhile public officials at all levels all still going allow for the ride, while too many of their constituents are going the graveyard before their time.
As for me, I have no reason to believe that this situation will begin to change until Millstone permanently shuts down. Both my sisters are cancer survivors, one of two kinds. It wouldn't be hard to compile a considerable list of people we knew who didn't survive.
And so I'll end this report the same way I concluded Millstone and Me in 1998:
"So until I get beyond family, friends, shimmering memories of childhood and quivering ones of coming of age, and love for that particular stretch of the sea, the Sound, whose eastern point my great-grandfather searched for granite, and where long before that Nehantics (indigenous people of the area) gazed out over its perfect blue waters -not until I get over all that will this game be over for me.
And that's why for myself, and for so many others in the place I come from, in a certain sense, one that ebbs and flows like the tides in Niantic Bay, in ultimately tragic, unresolved and maddeningly ways, each of our stories, the unborn, the passed on, the inconceivable, will forever be about Millstone and Me."
Sources: Secret Fallout: From Hiroshima To Three Mile Island, Ernest Sternglass; Millstone and Me: Sex, Lies and Radiation in Southeastern Connecticut, Michael Steinberg; Radiation and Public Health Project, radiation.org.